Have you ever encountered a situation when you couldn’t easily locate pdf file of an important article which you saved earlier? Or wished there was a way to save those results of literature surveys from SciFinder or Web of Science to your computer in an easy-to-search format? Of course there are softwares like EndNote and Reference Manager, but they are not free and they do not work within the web browser (where we do the literature search). This is where Zotero has its most important positive points; its free and it works within Firefox.

What is Zotero? Zotero is an extension for Firefox browser which helps collecting and organizing scientific literature as easy as single click. To know more about Zotero visit www.zotero.org.

What is Dropbox? Dropbox is a software for Windows, Mac and Linux-based computers which allows you to store, backup,  sync and share files online. You need to register an account at dropbox website to get 2GB free online space. After you download and install dropbox software on computer, it creates a folder named ‘My Dropbox’ or ‘Dropbox’ in your Documents folder. Anything you keep in this folder (within 2GB limit) will automatically be uploaded to your online dropbox space and you can access these files from anywhere by logging into your account at dropbox website. Bonus: use this link to register for dropbox and get 0.25GB extra!

Let’s see now how to add Zotero extension to Firefox and configure it to save everything in dropbox folder.

1.  Open Firefox, go to Tools > Add-ons. Search for Zotero in the ‘Get Add-ons’ tab of the ‘Add-ons’ window and click on the button that says, “add to Firefox.” Click on ‘install now’ button when it asks for confirmation. You’ll need to restart Firefox before you can use Zotero.


2.  After Firefox restarts, you can find ‘zotero’ at the lower right corner of Firefox window. Clicking the ‘zotero’ icon brings up your zotero library where all your literature data is saved. Clicking this icon again will minimize you zotero library. Open the zotero preferences as shown in the picture below.


3.  Make sure to check the box next to the option marked in the picture and then click on advanced tab.


4.  Create a folder Zotero in your dropbox and select it as your ‘Data Directory Location’ for Zotero by clicking on ‘choose’ button in zotero preferences window. Click ‘OK’ to save your zotero settings.


How to use Zotero: Zotero automatically detects when you are on a journal website (also YouTube! and news papers) and a small icon appears at the right end of the address bar. Clicking on the icon saves the article and its pdf (if subscribed) to your Zotero library. No need to download pdf separately and keeping it ‘somewhere-easy-to-remember.’


At anytime you can search your saved articles in Zotero library using keywords, author names, etc. and open the associated pdf inside Firefox. You can arrange articles for different topics in different folders within Zotero library. Just make sure to select the folder related to the topic you are searching on the web so that Zotero will put everything searched during that session in the selected folder.


Benefits of using Dropbox with Zotero: Although you can create an account on www.zotero.org and setup Zotero in Firefox to synchronize your library with your zotero account, using dropbox means there will be no need to create one more online account and remember its password. Also, attached files (pdf) are not saved when zotero account is used for synchronization. There are more benefits of using dropbox;

  • All your literature is automatically backed up.
  • In case you have to reinstall Firefox and Zotero, just configure it again to use the same Zotero directory in dropbox and you will have your complete Zotero library as earlier.

Hope this will be useful for anyone doing research. Comments, suggestions and further queries are welcome. Write a comment!

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4 Comments on Conveniently save and organize scientific literature using Zotero and Dropbox

  1. sudar says:

    hey … thatz gr8. useful… internet literature organizing has been dymystified .. to a simple manner.
    keep posting

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  3. Avram Lyon says:

    If you take this approach, you run a very high risk of corrupting your Zotero database, since the database file will be synchronized as well. To do this safely, you need to use the Zotero metadata sync. You can use Dropbox on the storage directory within the data directory to accomplish effectively the same thing.

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment. You are right about the possible corruption of Zotero database. I’ve also read about this possibility, however, it never happened to me. I have been using the same Zotero directory synchronized on two different computers (work and home) with dropbox for last 5-6 months (used Zotero account earlier). Adding just the storage directory to dropbox without adding the parent Zotero directory is not possible (without some more technical steps, which I want to avoid).

      I’m saying just what I’ve experienced. Also, dropbox gives us option to restore any file to a previous version. So, if this database corruption ever happens, we have the option to restore it.

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