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Michigan State University

Zotero: Using Zotero: MSU set-up

Reference Management Tool

Setting up Zotero for MSU Library users

This section provides recommendations and accompanying instructions to set up Zotero for optimal performance.  If you find this information helpful and want to learn more, sign up for one of our workshops!

1.  Create a account and enable syncing

A.  Some additional features of Zotero are only available online through  This includes syncing, groups, posting in the support forums, and sharing your library online.  Take advantage of these features by creating a free account.  

The URL to register is

B.  The sync, or synchronization feature, uses Zotero's cloud storage to back-up your library (free up to 300 MB) and make it accessible from multiple computers.  This is a very useful feature if you use both a computer in your office on campus and a laptop that you use at home and in the library.  You can install Zotero on both machines and sync your accounts.  You can also access your library online at from any computer, regardless of whether or not it has the Zotero application installed.

After registering with, open Zotero and then open the Zotero Preferences menu (click on Edit, then choose Preferences).  Click on the Sync tab and enter your username and password.

screenshot of sync setup in Zotero preferences menu


2.  Configure Library Lookup for MSU Full-Text Access

The Library Lookup (OpenURL) feature in Zotero allows you to connect to the FindText@MSU full text linking tool to automatically search the MSU Libraries electronic holdings and find the full text of an item in your Zotero library that is available only by library subscription.

Screenshot of Library Lookup feature in Zotero

To configure Library Lookup for MSU, follow these steps:

  1. Click on Edit in Zotero.
  2. Click on Preferences.
  3. Go to the Advanced tab in the Preferences pop-up window.
  4. Look for the OpenURL section.  Type in the resolver as
    • If you are on campus, click the Search for resolvers button. This should retrieve the URL listed above and save some typing. If it does not, follow the instructions above to manually add the URL.
  5. Click OK to close out of the Preferences window.

This completes the configuration.  To use the Library Lookup feature, select an item in your library and click on the Locate button (green arrow icon) for options to find and view the item.  Choose Library Lookup and a FindText@MSU window will open.

A complete list of OpenURL resolvers available at other institutions is posted at

3.  Enable PDF Indexing

PDF attachments that are coded with recognizable text can also be full-text searched.  To do this you must set up PDF Indexing.  This option is available by clicking on the gear icon, choosing the Preferences menu, and then clicking on the Search tab.  Click on the Check for Installer bar to set up this option.


4.  Set Default Citation Style

Zotero lets you create Quick Copy bibliographies by highlighting references in the Zotero pane and dragging them into any text field.  To set up the preferred citation style for these bibliographies click on the gear icon, choose the Preference menu, and then choose the Export tab.  From here, there is a drop down menu to set your preferred citation style.

Don't see your preferred style?  Zotero comes preloaded with 15 of the most commonly used citation styles.  Many more styles are available for download from the Zotero Style Repository.

5.  Consider Disabling Automatic Attachments and Tags

Attachments are files that are associated with the items in your library.  This includes notes, webpage snapshots, and full-text files.  This is what an item with attachments looks like:

screenshot of item with attachment

The default setting is for Zotero to add attachments automatically, such as a webpage snapshot and the full text PDF if available.  This can be convenient, but if you want to save on Zotero server storage space then you should consider disabling this feature.  You can still selectively choose when to attach a PDF by adding attachments manually.

Tags allow you to categorize and sort items by associating relevant keywords with items in your library.  If you are importing an item from a library catalog or database that includes subject classification information, Zotero will detect this and import these classifications as tags.  Many people prefer to set up customized invidual tags rather than using library subject classifications when sorting through their Zotero libraries.  Consider disabling automatic tags to keep your library clutter free.

You can disable automatic attachments and tags by selecting Tools and then Options, and clicking on the General tab of the Preferences menu.  Under the Miscellaneous heading, uncheck "Automatically take snapshots when creating items from web pages", "Automatically attach associated PDFs and other files when saving items", and Automatically tag items with keywords and subject headings."

Michigan State University