Using Zotero with Microsoft Word

i. Drag and Drop is not the best way to use Zotero

If all you could do was drag-and-drop citations around, then Zotero would not be very useful during the writing process. It is preferable to have a program that can keep track of which citations you have used and automatically build a bibliography. Additionally, it would be helpful if that bibliography automatically updated if you added/changed citations. Zotero does all that quite seamlessly.

ii. Microsoft Word “Fields” and Choosing a Style

When you attempt to add a citation for the first time, Word will ask you to choose a Style for the document. This can easily be changed later. A more important choice in the beginning is to ensure you are using Fields rather than Bookmarks. Fields are by far the better choice. You may have used Fields before when working in Microsoft Word; page numbers that get automatically generated are done using Fields. Fields change their value based on some set rules. For page numbers, the Field has the value of which page it is on (for instance, page 4 out of 5 pages), and then follows a formatting rule to dictate how it will display (for instance, “Page 4.” Or “Page 4 of 5”).

Likewise, Fields are useful for Zotero, as it allows a field to have some embedded piece of content (which reference is it citing?) and then follow some rule for how it is to be displayed (which Citation Style should be used?).

Screenshot of Zotero Document Preferences for Word

iii. Adding/Editing a Citation

Adding a citation can be done easily by either a shortcut on the keyboard or by using a menu. Since Macs and PCs operate very differently, there are two videos below to demonstrate how to use Zotero to add a Citation. One important updated feature: Zotero is no longer dependent upon Firefox to be running. As was stated earlier in this module, you only need to have the Zotero Standalone and one of the various browser plugins/extensions. When the video below states Firefox must be open, that is no longer true. Now, you should have the Zotero Standalone program running while adding citations into Word.

For PC Users:

For Mac Users: The process is similar, but instead of the “Add-Ins” menu, mac users must look for the “Scripts” menu – which is the icon in the toolbar that looks like a curled document:

Screenshot of Zotero menu in Word for Macs - Scripts menu

In practice, you should get familiar with using the keyboard shortcuts associated with your computer interface. In the above Mac example, the keyboard codes are all shown, of which the most common one to know is “Add Citation” – it allows you to add citations as you type without switching between the keyboard and the mouse.

Both the PC and Mac versions use a pop-up box that looks like the image below. It is just a search bar that brings up matches from your library. You can use author names, titles, or dates.

iv. Generating a Bibliography

As was seen in the video above, adding a bibliography is just as easy as adding a citation. One word of caution: Since Fields are updated every time anything in the document changes, wait to add your bibliography until you are near finished with writing your document. You can always add the bibliography, and then delete it after you check to see the format, then re-add it later.

All of the necessary references are stored within the document, so when you share it or e-mail it to a collaborator, they will still see your references without having access to your Zotero Library. 

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Comments 14

OLCC s12's picture
OLCC s12 | Thu, 09/03/2015 - 14:43
Does Zotero offer any versioning of documents within Word if multiple authors are working on the same file at once? So is there a way for this system to check before uploading a word document kept in my Zotero group library how I would like to have the files updated or will it simply overwrite another user's progress if I sync my updates to a word file?

Justin M. Shorb's picture
Justin M. Shorb | Thu, 09/03/2015 - 14:57

Good question!

Zotero has a Word Plugin that creates and manages Microsoft Word "Fields" - like the fields that Microsoft Word has that manage automatic page numbering and automatic Table/Figure numbering. Thus, any sort of versioning that is native for Word will still be possible (which is quite limited in my experience). Zotero itself does not keep any records of any documents that you write in Word. It creates these Fields that reference the Bibliography information which is stored in the Word Document, itself. Thus, it will work even if you send it to someone who does not have Zotero installed. The importance of using the Zotero Groups is that if someone wants to add or edit existing citations, they need to have access to the same pool of documents that the other authors are using: hence the use of collaborative group libraries.

I hope that answers the question - although I know it is not the context in which you were hoping Zotero functioned!


Brandon Davis (not verified) | Thu, 09/03/2015 - 16:14
Does the libreoffice plugin work just as well as the word plugin?

Justin M. Shorb's picture
Justin M. Shorb | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 09:51

Thanks for the question, Brandon!

Unfortunately, I have no experience with LibreOffice. However, being an OpenSource and community-driven sort of group on both ends (LibreOffice and Zotero) I think that it is likely LibreOffice works just as well if not better than the Word add-in. I would also point out that one thing that often lags in Open Source software is up-to-date documentation. So, even if you find some reviews that say something doesn't work too well and no current documentation, I'd still give it a try. I'm usually surprised to find that things work better than the Zotero website even describes! 


Brian Murphy | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 06:19

When creating a bibliography using zotero what would be the correct way to cite say slide 5 of 30 slides from slideshare or another similar website. 

Justin M. Shorb's picture
Justin M. Shorb | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 10:02

Bibliography styles are dependent on which "style" you choose to use. I am most comfortable with the ACS Style Guide (link: which doesn't have any specific guides to using SlideShare. However, page 221 of the PDF that I linked to has a recommended format for online unpublished conference presentations which probably fits best. It is not too common to cite individual slide numbers, but if you felt it was helpful, then I would reference it like a page number (p. 5 in your example). 

I will encourage you to speak to your librarian, as well (or if one of the librarians wants to chime in here on OLCC). They are a wealth of information!


John House (not verified) | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 13:52
I'm struggling to download the Microsoft word plug in on windows 8. It downloads as an xpi file, how should I open it?

John House (not verified) | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 13:52
I'm struggling to download the Microsoft word plug in on windows 8. It downloads as an xpi file, how should I open it?

Robert Belford's picture
Robert Belford | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 14:04
John, I sort of had the same problem, and am also confused about what is going on. I think you need to start firefox, but when I downloaded it, I was asked for a program to open it. I did not know what to do, but when I opened Word, it was already installed. But the extension is supposedly some sort of zip file used by Firefox. How that creates a word plugin, is beyond me. I am curious if anyone has any info on this. Cheers,

Jordi Cuadros's picture
Jordi Cuadros | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 14:27
I think you find the answer to your question here: <a href=""></a>. It seems the XPI format is just a convenient or and system independent way for then to deploy the plugins. A different story is when you use the Zotero standalone application. Hope it helps, Jordi

Justin M. Shorb's picture
Justin M. Shorb | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 15:26
Often, I find that the easiest way to "Open" files is to drag them onto Zotero or onto Chrome (or in some cases, Firefox). I do use a Mac, though. I have often found that Zotero has already installed the MS Word extension without me needing to download anything (it comes with the Standalone one). You can also install the MS Word Plugin through the Zotero Standalone "Preferences" or "Settings" panel (On a mac, it's Preferences -> "Cite" options). If it says "Reinstall Word Plugin" then you've already got it installed! -Justin

Sarah House (not verified) | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 15:00
I have a Mac laptop. I have downloaded Zotero, but still do not have the icon on my web browser so as to take full advantage of Zotero. I am not sure how to fix this.

Brian Murphy | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 15:08
I have a Mac as well. I had to download Firefox and then download the zotero for Firefox plug in.

Justin M. Shorb's picture
Justin M. Shorb | Fri, 09/04/2015 - 15:23
The icons in the browser are a separate add-on. You have to download Zotero, and also a plugin for whichever browser you want to use. If you use Firefox, then you can download the Firefox Zotero (all-in-one). If you use Chrome (as I do) then you can download Zotero Standalone, and then download the plugin/extension for Chrome.