Zotero: A Critical Review


Zotero is a digital tool widely used among scholars, journalists, and students around the world. Zotero is an open source tool that can be downloaded onto any computer and allows for the easy collecting and saving of research sources, the organizing of the sources, and is also used for referencing in academic work. The program is extremely useful for anyone who needs to research, collect sources and reference other people’s work. The tool was first released in 2006 and now has a strong, supportive community behind it. With hundreds of articles and reviews on-line about the program, it is fair to say that Zotero has been used and downloaded by many.  In theory, Zotero is a revolutionary digital tool that can be used by anyone with a computer with great ease. I also find this to be true about Zotero and now as I have used the program regularly myself since the beginning of my college life. First introduced to me by one of my Digital Humanities lecturers, I have used Zotero many times and find it does truly help with many aspects of my work, after downloading it from its website, Zotero.org.



To use Zotero for collections sources all you have to do is simply create a new item, fill in the fields about your source, such as; the name of the author, the title of the piece, the date of publication etc., and Zotero organizes this information in a professional fashion. You can also easily collect sources from various websites and webpages by simply clicking and dragging the webpage’s URL to your open Zotero window and dropping it. With Zotero you can not only collect web pages and word documents as your sources, but you can also collect and save audio and visual sources, images and almost every other file type that you may need for future referencing. Once your sources are in Zotero, they are automatically saved onto your local Zotero library and can be synced onto your on-line Zotero account, where you can access you sources anywhere on any computer.

As well as saving your references, Zotero allows you to create collections, sub-collections and allows you to tag all your sources. You can create and name these collections and sub-collections, and store whatever relevant sources you have into each collection. This allows for the easy locating of your sources within your Zotero library. As for referencing, Zotero has its own built-in bibliography and citation template styles and layouts which can be easily used in any word processor.


Although the Zotero had a step-by-step demonstration on how to use the program when first downloaded, and even with basic instructions on the Zotero website, learning how to use Zotero properly was a very tedious and time-consuming process. I found myself watching YouTube tutorials for many weeks each time I wanted to use Zotero because I was simply unsure whether or not I was using the tool correctly due to the vague descriptions on the Zotero website. Although, some fault may have lied with my unfamiliarity with referencing and citing sources as a first year undergraduate, I believe Zotero should improve the program’s instructions and descriptions of all the features that come with the program.

Despite the nearly painful process of getting used to using Zotero effectively, the program overall has proved to be an important tool in my academic work.

Zotero allows me to easily create new items within my Zotero library and automatically saves my sources without ever needing me to do this manually. I find that the automatic saving feature in Zotero is crucial for when you are researching, as we are all familiar with becoming engrossed in looking up articles, reading books and trying to find relevant and important sources for your work. During this intense and even stressful process, automatically saving our sources as we create new ones is both helpful and leaves the Zotero user to worry about one thing less.

Before I discovered the collection feature on my Zotero program, for a short time I was left with scattered, unorganized sources in my library. It was only then when I began creating collections and using tags and notes on my sources that I realized how useful this feature was. To organize all my related sources into collections and sub-collections made finding my sources within my library and referencing at the end of my work considerably less daunting.

Last but not least, Zotero now has a ‘group’ feature. This allows for people working on the same project together to create a collection of sources that they can share between their own libraries. Although I have not had a need to use this feature yet, I can only imagine how easy it would make working as part of team whilst researching for group projects.



To conclude, I think Zotero is a powerful and useful tool to many people who ever need to cite, research, and reference their work. In my opinion, again referring to the difficult time I had using Zotero when it first downloaded, I think it would be an improvement in the functionality of the program to first-time users if Zotero were to create more in-depth instructions and descriptions on its website. As for the program itself, I believe that the feature icons themselves can be made bigger and possibly have simple instructions on how to use the features upon clicking them. With the option to turn off the automatic instructions on how to use each feature effectively, I believe this would be very helpful for first-time Zotero users.

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