This page serves as examples of how Zotero may fit into a research and writing workflow. It is not intended to be followed precisely, but to provide a demonstration of how Zotero may be helpful throughout the process.
Throughout this page, description of various Zotero functions will be illustrated with a narrative of a research and writing process following a fictional student - we'll call them "Sam." Sam is a second-year student at AU working on a their longest research paper yet.
Zotero's role in the literature search process is likely the aspect that draws many users to the software. The ability to save article metadata and PDFs with just a click in your browser is immensely convenient, allowing you to avoid "where did I read that?" situations days or weeks later.
It's worthwhile to consider what criteria you'll use to decide what should be saved. Will you only save items that you've fully read, or will you save first, read later? As long as your approach is thoughtful and consistent, Zotero can enable any sort of saving workflow.
Sam wants to make sure all of their potential sources are in one place, a new Zotero collection. To distinguish it from existing collections, they name it after the assignment.
They decide that they'll skim abstracts of papers in database search results and save anything that might be relevant to read and organize later. After some searching and search refining, they're very interested in several items in the results list. They open each one in turn, skim the abstract to make sure it's relevant, and use the browser connector to save it to their library and the new collection. After each item saved, they quickly check to make sure the metadata captured by the browser connector is accurate.
After saving the items, Sam creates a subcollection within the collection created for the assignment. They then open the PDFs in Zotero to read and annotate. As they read and evaluate the items in the collection, they drag items they may want to use in their assignment into the subcollection to designate that they've been read. This could also be done with tags, but Sam prefers the visual of collections.
The "Additional Features in Zotero" page of this guide goes into more depth about how Zotero can be used to organize items. This is particularly useful while outlining and drafting.
After saving the items, Sam creates a subcollection within the collection created for the assignment. They then open the PDFs in Zotero to read and annotate. As they read and evaluate the items in the collection, they drag them into the subcollection to designate that they've been read. This could also be done with tags, but Sam prefers the visual of collections. Speaking of tags, Sam also assigns tags to items as they're read - keywords and descriptors like "elementary education", "qualitative methodology", and "Spain". This helps group items.
When they're done reading this cluster of articles, they start outlining their paper. They use the tags they assigned while reading to find the groups of items they decided on while reading and use the Google Docs integration of Zotero to insert citations to the items in the outline.
As Sam begins to write, they use the Google Docs integration of Zotero to insert a citation to one of the items. When they finish the thought, they take a minute to insert a page break and use Zotero to create a bibliography and check on the formatting of the citation they just inserted. As they write, they continue to insert their citations.
When they're done with the draft, they check over their full bibliography and manually correct any errors that Zotero may have made.
After reviewing the draft some time later, they decide they actually want to switch the citation style. They open the "Document preferences" menu and select a new style, which Zotero automatically applies to both their in-text citations and the bibliography. Sam quickly double checks that everything still looks correct in the bibliography.