Choose an Organization Strategy


Why would I do this?

There are numerous ways to organize your archival sources in Zotero. You will need to find the strategy that best matches your research methodology.

"Remember, how you organize your data will have a profound effect on your thinking."

(Galarza, Alex. “Zotero in the Archives.” GradHacker. Accessed December 17, 2013.


Organize Using Tags


Instead of filing items into Zotero collections, leave all items in the default "My Library" collection (you can sort by date, title, etc.).

Assign tags to items to filter them according to research theme.

Here is a sample library for a research project on pay equity. 

zotero library organized by tag



Organize Using Collections

Using Zotero Collections, organize your research by topic and archival collection consulted. 

Here is a sample structure:

Collection                           Subject of Research                                   e.g. Advertising 

Sub-collection                    Each archival collection consulted               e.g. Jean Wade Rindlaub papers

Sub-sub-collection             Folders consulted                                       e.g. Folder 7.9. Market research

Item                                    Items of note within folders                         e.g. Notes regarding Betty Crocker

Here is how this structure appears in Zotero:

screenshot: how file structure appears in zotero      

Use Zotero as a Research Log

A best practice of Archival Research is to keep a research log.

A research log may be kept on paper, in a word processing program, or as a spreadsheet. A sample research log is as follows. 

screenshot: sample research log

Organizing your archival research in Zotero allows you to transform your research log into a personalized research database.

The fields that a research log includes are built into the item information that Zotero contains. Add comments and other information in Zotero notes. 

screenshot: zotero fields that overlap with research log


Item Types for Archival Research 

Best practices for using Zotero Item Types for archival materials. 

To cite an archival collection as a whole (e.g. Julia Child papers, 1925-1993), use the Item Type Manuscript as shown below.

             screenshot: manuscript item type in Zotero

To cite items within an archival collection (e.g. letter, Julia Child to Paul Child, 1945), it is best to use the Item Type that most closely resembles the material being cited.

screenshot: item type letter

Note: If there is not an acceptable match in the Item Type list, do not use Document (the citation output for Document does not include all of the fields necessary to cite archival material). Revert to Manuscript. 

screenshot: zotero item types  

Zotero Fields Cheat Sheet

Each item in your Zotero library has Fields.These fields provide information about the item that Zotero uses to create citations. 

This cheat-sheet shows how to use fields so that Zotero creates accurate citation information for archival materials. 


Field title                     Best use 

Title                               Document or material title

Author                          Author of document or material

Abstract                       Can use for brief notes if desired

Date                              Date of document or material

Language                     Language of document or material

URL                               Finding aid / Catalog record URL

Accessed                      No suggested use

Archive                          Full name of archival repository

Loc. in Archive             Important: Give call number, folder / box number in this field

Library Catalog             No suggested use

Call Number                   Can input call number, but be sure to also put call number in “Loc. in Archive”

Rights                             Copyright notes, Access or Use Restrictions, Permission to Publish information

Extra                               Annotations; Zotero can create an annotated Chicago Style bibliography

Manage Research Images

File Naming 

Best Practice: Start managing your images before you link them to Zotero. 

Decide on a file-naming convention and stick to it. This practice will allow you to use your images even outside of a structure like Zotero. 

Here is a sample naming convention: [LastNameorOrgName]_[CallNo]_[FolderNo]_[ImageNo]

Example 1:          Julia Child Papers            Child_MC660_1.1_001 
Example 2:          NOW Records                  NOW_MC666_2.1_001


Capture Folder Titles 

Never forget what collection your image came from!

Capture the folder title in your image or write the folder title on a slip of paper and capture it in your image.

You can also start each set of images by photographing the outside of the box. 

image of archival material in folder, capturing folder title and number

Local Storage

Store your images on your hard drive and link them to your Zotero library.

Right click on the item to which you want to link your research images (OSX ctrl+click). Select Add Attachment then  Attach Link to File.

Note: You cannot link to a folder, but you can select multiiple image files to link to your item.

screenshot: link to file

Cloud Storage 

Store your images in cloud storage like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Flickr and link them to your Zotero library.

Ensure your cloud storage is set to private. Photographs taken of archival collections are for personal research use only. 

The following example shows how to use Dropbox and Zotero. You would follow a similar method for using other cloud storage services. 

In Dropbox, create folders that match the Zotero collections and / or items that you have photographed

screenshot: sample dropbox setup
Copy the URL for the dropbox folder that contains your research images.

Add the URL to the "URL" field in the corresponding Zotero item.

screenshot: dropbox url in zotero item

Get Help

Zotero is open source, so it has no dedicated support staff. You can still get help from Harvard Library, other Zotero users and even Zotero developers.

  • You can check the Zotero forums at any time (postings of technical issues by Zotero users and responses from Zotero developers). Someone may have asked your question before!
  • Browse our Zotero FAQs (Harvard-specific guidance for common issues with Zotero.

Help form

Librarians are generally available M-F, 9-5, for assistance:

  • Use the form below to submit your Zotero questions to a Harvard librarian.