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Using Zotero with Google Docs

Zotero's powerful Google Docs support helps you easily add citations and bibliographies to the documents you create in Google Docs.

You can quickly search for items in your Zotero library, add page numbers and other details, and insert citations. When you're done, a single click inserts a formatted bibliography based on the citations in your document. Zotero supports complex style requirements such as Ibid. and name disambiguation, and it keeps your citations and bibliography updated as you make changes to items in your library. If you need to switch citation styles, you can easily reformat your entire document in any of the over 9,000 citation styles that Zotero supports.

Google Docs support is part of the Zotero Connector for Chrome and Firefox and requires the Zotero program to function. A version of the Zotero Connector for Safari that supports Google Docs will be available in the near future.

Using another word processor? Zotero also integrates with Word and LibreOffice.

Citation Interface

The Zotero Connector adds a Zotero menu to the Google Docs interface:

It also adds a toolbar button for one-click citing:

In the Zotero menu, you'll find the following options:

Add/Edit Citation Add a new citation or edit an existing citation in your document at the cursor location.
Add/Edit Bibliography Insert a bibliography at the cursor location or edit an existing bibliography.
Preferences Open the Document Preferences window, e.g. to change the citation style.
Refresh Refresh all citations and the bibliography, updating any item metadata that has changed in your Zotero library.
Unlink Citations Unlink Zotero citations in the document by removing the field codes. This prevents any further automatic updates of the citations and bibliographies.
Note that removing field codes is irreversible and should usually only be done in a final copy of your document.

Authentication

Interacting with the Zotero functionality for the first time in a document will prompt you to authenticate the plugin with your Google account. Once authenticated you can begin inserting citations from your Zotero libraries just as you can with Word and LibreOffice.

Citing

You can begin citing by clicking the (“Add/Edit Zotero Citation”) button in the Google Docs toolbar or by selecting “Add/Edit Citation” from the Zotero menu, both of which will bring up the citation dialog.

The citation dialog is used to select items from your Zotero library and create a citation.

Start typing part of a title, the last names of one or more authors, and/or a year in the dialog box. Matching items will instantly appear below the dialog box.

Matching items will be shown for each library in your Zotero database (My Library and any groups you are part of). Items you have already cited in the document will be shown at the top of the list under “Cited”.

Select an item by clicking on it or by pressing Enter when it is highlighted. The item will appear in the dialog box in a shaded bubble. Press Enter again to insert the citation and close the Add Citation box.

In the Add Citation box, you can click on the bubble for a cited item and then click “Open in My Library” (or another library name) to view the item in Zotero. Items that are orphaned (i.e., not connected to any items in your Zotero database) will not have an “Open in My Library” button. Orphaned items can exist if they were inserted by a collaborator from their My Library or a group you don't have access to or if they were deleted from your Zotero library.

Bibliography

Clicking the “Add/Edit Bibliography” menu option inserts a bibliography at the cursor location.

You can edit which items appear in the bibliography by clicking the “Add/Edit Bibliography” button again, which will open the bibliography editor. See Editing the Bibliography below for more info. Manual edits made to the bibliography in the document will be overwritten the next time Zotero refreshes the document.

Collaboration

Google Docs is designed to let you collaborate on documents, and Zotero’s integration is no different. You and your coauthors can all insert and edit citations in a shared document, and you don't even need to be in a Zotero group. If you're planning a large collaborative project, though, we recommend using a group library, which not only makes it easy to collect and manage materials but will also allow all collaborators to change cited item metadata (authors, title, date of publication, etc.). If someone cites an item from their personal library, only they will be able to update the metadata for that item.

When working collaboratively on a document, you and your coauthors should avoid inserting or editing citations at the same time. The Zotero Connector has mechanisms in place to prevent document and citation corruption from concurrent citation editing, but due to technical limitations they do not provide perfect safety.

It's not necessary for everyone editing the document to have the Zotero Connector installed. Without the Zotero Connector, they'll see active citations in the document show up as links leading to URLs such as https://www.zotero.org/google-docs/?abc123, but they can still edit other parts of the document.

Document Preferences

The “Document Preferences” window lets you set the following document-specific preferences:

  1. The language to use to format citations and bibliography.
  2. For styles that abbreviate journal titles (e.g., “Nature”), whether to use the MEDLINE abbreviations list to abbreviate titles.
    • If this option is selected (the default), the contents of the “Journal Abbr” field in Zotero will be ignored.
  3. Whether Zotero should automatically update citations for disambiguations, ibid and numbering, or whether updating should be delayed until a manual refresh. Note that if you enable this mode, Zotero will insert your citations with a gray background to indicate that the citation text is not final. The citation will be finalized and the gray background removed once you click “Refresh” in the Zotero menu.

Saving for Publication

When you're ready to submit your document, use File → “Make a copy…” and, in the new document, use Zotero → “Unlink Citations” to convert the citations and bibliography to plain text. You can then download that second document (e.g., as a PDF), while keeping active citations in the original document in case you need to make further changes. Zotero will prompt you to create a copy if you try to download your original document.

Customizing Cites

Cites can be customized in various ways. To start, click the shaded cite in the Add Citation box to open the cite options window.

Page and Other Locators

In some cases you want to cite a certain part of an item, e.g. a certain page, page range or volume. This additional cite-specific information (e.g. “pp. 4-7” in the cite “Doe et al. 2001, p. 4-7”) is called the “locator”.

The cite options windows has a drop-down list of the different locator types (“Page” is the default), and a text box in which you can enter the locator value (e.g. “4-7”). To cite a locator other than the ones listed (e.g., “Table), use the Suffix field.

Prefix and Suffix

The “Prefix” and “Suffix” text boxes allow you to specify text to respectively precede and follow the automatically generated cite. For example, instead of “Tribe 1999”, you might want “cf. Tribe 1999, see also…”.

Any text in the prefix and suffix fields can be formatted with the HTML tags <i> (for italics), <b> (bold), <sub> (subscript), and <sup> (superscript). For example, typing ”<i>cf</i>. the classic example“ will be displayed as ”cf. the classic example“.

Prefixes and suffixes can be applied to each item in a citation to create complex citations. For example: ”(see Smith 1776 for the classic example; Marx 1867 presents and alternate view)“. Modifying citations by entering text into the Prefix and Suffix fields is always preferable to directly typing in the citation fields in the document. Manual modifications will prevent Zotero from automatically updating the citation.

Suppress Authors: Using Authors in the Text

With author-date styles, authors are often moved into the text and omitted from the following parentheses-enclosed citation, e.g.: ”…according to Smith (1776) the division of labor is crucial…“. To omit the authors from the cite, check the “Suppress Author” box (this will result in a cite like ”(1776)“ instead of ”(Smith, 1776)“) and write the author's name (“Smith”) as part of the regular text in your document.

Citations with Multiple Cited Items

To create a citation containing multiple cites (e.g., ”[2,4-6]“ for numeric styles or ”(Smith 1776, Schumpeter 1962)“ for author-date styles), add them one after the other in the Add Citation box. After selecting the first item, don't press Enter/Return, but type the author, title, or year of the next item.

Some citation styles require that items within one in-text citations are ordered either alphabetically (e.g., ”(Doe 2000, Grey 1994, Smith 2008)“) or chronologically (”(Grey 1994, Doe 2000, Smith 2008)“). Zotero will follow these sort rules automatically.

Switching to the "Classic View"

You can switch to the "Classic View" citation dialog by clicking the “Z” icon on the left side of the Citation box, and selecting “Classic View”. To permanently switch to the classic view check the “Use classic Add Citation view” checkbox in the Cite pane of Zotero preferences.

Editing the Bibliography

After you've inserted the bibliography using the “Add/Edit Bibliography” option, select it again to open the Edit Bibliography window.

In this window, you can add uncited sources to your bibliography (e.g., items included in a review but not cited in the paper) or remove items that are cited in text but which should not be included in the bibliography (e.g., personal communications).

While it is also possible to edit the text or formatting of bibliography references in this window, doing so is discouraged. References edited here will not be automatically updated by Zotero if you change the data in your library.

If you need to edit items in your bibliography, it is best to do this as a final step before submitting the document. First, make a copy of the document. Then, in the copy, use the “Unlink Citations” menu option to disconnect your document from Zotero and convert all citations and the bibliography to regular text. Finally, make your adjustments to the bibliography text.

This process can be used for a variety of minor modifications to the bibliography, including:

Note: General corrections to style formatting should be made in the CSL citation style, not in this window. Corrections to item data should be made in your Zotero library.

Keyboard Shortcuts

You can use keyboard shortcuts for improved accessibility and faster citing.

Limitations

While we've tried to create the same experience available in Word and LibreOffice, there are some limitations to be aware of when working in Google Docs:

Troubleshooting

If you have any trouble citing in Google Docs, let us know in the Zotero Forums.

You should always troubleshoot with a copy of the original document, using File → “Make a copy…”. If something isn't working in a particular document, the document version history may allow you to revert to an earlier version. Some of the Debugging Broken Documents steps may also be useful in Google Docs.