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Legal Citation Management With Zotero

This guide describes how to use Zotero to import, manage, and create citations for Canadian legal information.

Install Zotero Word Processor Plugin

Zotero offers word processing plugins for Word and OpenOffice. The plugin adds a Zotero toolbar to your word processor that allows you to add citations to your document while you write.

If you are using Microsoft Word, the word processing plugin should be automatically added to Word when you download Zotero to your computer. 

The Word plugin for Zotero doesn't work with Office 365 Online, it only works with the local version/app downloaded on your computer.

Zotero in Word may look different depending on operating systems and software versions. Look for "Zotero", "Add-ins" or a whistle icon (on a Mac).

Set Document Preferences

When you click Add/Edit Citation for the first time, the Zotero Document Preferences box will open asking which citation style you wish to use. Make sure the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation 9th edition (McGill Guide) is selected, and 'Footnotes' is selected under 'Display Citations As'.

Screen shot of Zotero Document Preferences dialogue box in Microsoft Word.

If the McGill Guide is not listed, click 'Manage Styles' and search for the McGill Guide.

Screenshot of Microsoft Word with Zotero Document Preferences dialogue box open.

Adding a Citation to a Document

Installing the Zotero Word plugin adds a Zotero tab to Microsoft Word. To create a footnote, place the cursor beside the word where you want to insert the footnote, then click Add/Edit Citation.

Screen shot of Microsoft word with Zotero tab open.

Pressing the button brings up the Zotero citation dialogue box. 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 be shown for each library in your Zotero database. Select an item by clicking on it or by pressing Enter/Return when it is highlighted. The item will appear in the dialog box in a shaded bubble. Press Enter/Return again to insert the citation and close the Add Citation box.

Screenshot of Zotero citation dialogue box in Microsoft Word.

Fixing a Mistake in a Citation

The citations that Zotero generates in "McGill Guide" style may not always be correct. This is especially true for Canadian cases and legislation.

If a citation is simply incorrect or missing data, start by making sure that the item metadata in your Zotero library is correct and complete, and then click Refresh in the word processing plugin to update your document with any changes.

However, if a citation is incorrectly formatted or the wrong information has been included, then the problem may lie in the way that Zotero has been programed to generate Canadian legal citations. The only way to address this kind of error is to edit the citation directly in the Word document.

To edit a citation directly in a Word document, click the footnote and make the necessary changes.  

Screenshot of a footnote citation in a Microsoft Word document.

After you make a manual edit, click the 'refresh button' in the Zotero tab. This will cause a pop-up window to appear asking you to confirm that you want to keep the edit and prevent the citation from being updated automatically going forward. Click 'Yes'. 

Screenshot of Zotero refresh button in Microsoft Word.

Screenshot of Zotero dialogue box in Microsoft Word.

Note: Editing a citation directly in Word will prevent Zotero from being able to automatically update the citation to reflect other changes in the document (e.g., for 'ibid'). Alternatively, it may be preferable to instead make notes in the text of changes you want to make, wait until you're ready to submit the document, and make the changes in a copy of the document after using Unlink Citations (see instructions on using 'Unlink Citations' in the Editing a Bibliography section below).

Customizing Citations

For further information on customizing citations, including how to add page or paragraph numbers, how to add prefixes and suffixes to citations, and how to suppress author names, go to Using the Zotero Word Processor Plugin.

Creating a Bibliography

Zotero can create a bibliography at the end of your paper containing all the references that have been cited in your footnotes. To do this, go to the Zotero tab and click Add/Edit Bibliography, as shown below: 

Screenshot of Microsoft Word with Zotero tab open.

Editing the Bibliography

The citations that Zotero generates in "McGill Guide" style may not always be correct. Any formatting problems that you have fixed directly in the footnotes may appear again in the bibliography.

If you need to edit items in your bibliography, it is best to do this as a final step before submitting the document. This will prevent the changes you make from being overwritten when Zotero is refreshed. First, save a backup copy of the document. Then, click the “Unlink Citations” button () 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 including adding headings for bibliography subsections (e.g. Legislation, Jurisprudence, Secondary Materials, etc.).