Skip to Main Content

Zotero: Creating a Bibliography


Summary:  If during your academic career you intend to create a bibliography with more than about 15 items, or you intend to create multiple bibliographies, then you will benefit from learning a citation management system like Zotero.  Zotero can generate a bibliography, no matter how big, in seconds.  But you do have to double check the output to make sure your data was good and was output according to the rules of the citation style you've chosen.

Overview of Creating Bibliographies with Zotero

Why and When to use Zotero to generate your Bibliography

Automatically creating a bibliography formatted according to your chosen style (MLA, Chicago, etc) with two or three clicks is one of Zotero's strongest features.  This is especially true if you have a long bibliography, or one that needs regular updating as you add new material:  Zotero doesn't care how long your bib is:  your bib is always 2 or 3 clicks and only a few seconds away.  What could go wrong?

A few things, actually.  If you are creating a single bibliography, and that bib will have fewer than 15 or so citations, you might not want to invest time in learning Zotero.

For larger bibliographies, or for ongoing or multiple bibliographies, Zotero is worth the effort. This page tells you what you need to know about automatically generating bibliographies from Zotero.


Zotero can be a big help in creating bibliographies.  A really big help.  The bigger your bibliography, and the more of them you do, the more Zotero helps.

Bibliographies for academic papers require certain standard information for citing the sources that you have used, which usually include title, author, publication date, publisher, and more, depending on the type of source.  Zotero grabs this kind of information from web sources (like our online catalog, JSTOR,, etc) and stores it for you. 

So, in one of your programs or classes, you may be required to submit a bibliography formatted according to a specific citation style.  Zotero stores citation data without regard to citation style, so that it can output bibliographies according to the rules of almost any style you are required (or choose) to use.  Typically, this happens with only a few clicks.

However, you do need to know about a couple of potential pitfalls.  You could just get started with the How to Create A Bibliography with Zotero box to the right, but I recommend reading The Fine Print section just below.

Creating Bibliographies with Zotero:  The Fine Print

No automated citation management system will get everything right all the time.  The two most basic problems, common to all such systems are bad data sources (when the data coming in is bad, the citations coming out will be bad), and citation style rules that cannot be fully automated (APA is the main offender here).

Regarding APA style, see the APA Issues page.

Regarding data:  Your citation data has probably come from a number of different sources.  Some of those sources had good bibliographic data.  Some did not.  Zotero does the best that it can with the source material, but Zotero can't fix data that comes from bad data sources.  And Zotero has not been programmed to recognize bib data from every source.

Here is one example.  In our library catalog (Primo) records for physical books generally have good data.  Records for ebooks sometimes have less good data.  When you save your bibliographic data for a specific book title using the Zotero connector, you will generally get what you need when you are dealing with print books, but you will sometimes have to manually 'improve'  the bib data for ebooks.  If you do not manually  improve the data that comes from bad records, the data eventually output to your bibliography will be incomplete or incorrect.

Another example:  Data from Amazon is usually pretty good.  Data from Google Books is often incomplete and sometimes wrong.

If you are on the web page for an item and Zotero is giving you the generic "Web Page" connector icon:   Generic Blue Iconyou will get very incomplete data and you will have to improve the data yourself (see the forthcoming page on Adding or Editing Citations Manually.  See the Connector Icons box on the Basics page, or the Zotero Connectors page for more details on Zotero connectors).

For larger bibliographies (approximately 15 items or more) you will still find that Zotero saves you time and hassle, even if you have to improve some of the data in your Zotero libraries yourself before publishing your bibliographies.  For very large bibs or multiple bibs, Zotero will save you enormous time and tedium.


How to Create a Bibliography with Zotero

There are two super-quick methods of creating bibs with Zotero.

  • If you want to create a bibliography containing all the items in a Collection (see the page on Organizing, Searching, and Sorting for details on Collections), right click on the collection icon, and choose Create Bibliography From Collection.
  • If you want to select specific items within a collection, select the references you want to include while holding the control key down. Then right-click on one of the selected items and choose Create Bibliography From Items.


After doing one of the two above, the remaining steps are the same:

  • In the box that pops up after you choose "Create Bibliography .  . .",
    • choose your preferred citation style
      • Several of the most common styles appear by default:  you can add others from a list of thousands by following the steps in the Additional Citation Styles box elsewhere on this page.
    • Under Output Mode, choose "Bibliography"
    • Under Output Method, choose either
      • Copy to Clipboard
        • This is the easiest method, but in some cases may not provide the cleanest formatting for your bib.
        • Now you can paste directly into a word processing document.
      • Save as RTF
        • Save as a file to a location on your computer.
        • Find the file, and open it in your word processing program of choice.
        • Now you can print, or copy and paste into an existing document.

There is another cool way to create bibliographies, but I consider this to be an advanced method for committed Zotero users.

  • If you are using Zotero with a word processing plug-in, then you can also automatically generate a bibliography from the in-text citations in your document.  This is covered on the page for Word, LibreOffice, Google Docs.

Additional Citation Styles

You may have been required to cite your sources for a paper in a specific citation style.  MLA is common in literature.  APA is common in many social sciences.  Chicago is common in history.  There are hundreds of citation styles in the sciences.  Or you may have been required to use a style but have the option to choose the style you like.  Or you may have been told that you do not need to use any style, but that your bibliographic entries must be consistent and easy to read.

In all of these situations, Zotero can help (see the How to Create a Bibliography with Zotero box above).

Zotero includes about a dozen styles by default.  If you need to add other styles, follow these steps:

There are two ways to start.

  • When you creating a bibliography from a collection or from selected citations and you are looking at the Create Citation/Bibliography pop up box, you will see the default styles.  To add another style, click on Manage Styles.  This brings you to the Zotero Preferences pop up for Cites. OR . . . 
  • You can just go to the Preferences menu item in the Zotero Edit menu.  Then click on the Cites tab.

From this point on, the steps are the same:

  • Click on Get Additional Styles
  • This brings you to the Zotero Style Repository.  There are hundreds of styles listed here, so you will probably want to search for the style you want by keyword. 
  • When you see the style you want, hover over the link and a pop up will show you what the style will look like. 
  • Click the link and the style is added to your default styles. 
  • From then on, on that machine, you will have that style (you don't need to download that style again unless you change machines).

If you know how to write html and css code, you can adapt existing styles to make your own custom style.


Daniel J. Evans Library - MS: LIB2300 - 2700 Evergreen Parkway, NE. Olympia, WA 98501 - 360-867-6250