How to use Zotero (and keep your papers on Dropbox).

Zotero is a simple, open-source solution for organizing your papers, books, websites, and other sources. It works great with Sci-Hub and even has a Firefox/Chrome add-ons so that you can quickly add papers straight from your browser. Additionally, it works flawlessly with Word to quickly add in-text citations and produce a bibliography of your cited sources.

What you’ll need:

  1. Zotero Standalone program
  2. Zotero connector add-on
  3. Sci-Hub X Now! add-on (not required) (Chrome, Firefox, Edge)
  4. Zotfile add-on
  5. Dropbox

Here’s how I set up Zotero to work with Dropbox and Sci-hub:

1. I organize all of my papers into individual collections (and sub-collections) on Zotero.

2. I keep a similar organizational format in Dropbox.

3. I use Firefox + Sci-Hub X Now! add-on to find the paper I need. Then, because of some weirdness with the iframes of Sci-Hub, I usually have to R-click the article and choose “This Frame -> Open in New Tab” to isolate the PDF.

4. Then, once I have the article up, I use the Zotero Connector add-on to download papers into their respective catalogs. Zotero will automatically store these papers in its proprietary location (i.e., NOT in the Dropbox folder).

5. Back in Zotero, I use the ZotFile add-on to manage the PDFs.

Under the general settings, you’ll want to choose the location to store your new PDFs/files as well as the location of your papers folder. If you’re organizing your papers like me, you will also want to name your subfolders after the catalogs they’re in using “/%c”.

6. Once we’ve got ZotFile configured, the last step is to move the PDF from the place that Zotero automatically saves it to Dropbox and rename it based on your specifications. To do this, right-click on your attached PDF (at this point, it probably won’t have a chain link), choose “Manage Attachments -> Rename and Move”. This puts the PDF into your assigned Dropbox folder.

I’ve had this set up for the better part of a year. It takes a few minutes to get started, but now it’s basically turnkey.

I don’t use Zotero or ZotFile to send PDFs to my tablet for reading. I have selective sync enabled on my tablet’s Dropbox app so it will automatically download all new PDFs. Then I use Dropbox -> Open With + Xodo to make edits. When I exit the PDF, changes/comments are automatically saved and I can reopen the PDF on my computer once it’s had a chance to re-sync.

Note: If you have the PDF open in multiple places or don’t wait for it to re-sync, you will end up with a conflicted copy. It will save a copy of the PDF with “conflicted copy” at the end of the file name. Just be aware of it.

Good luck to you! I hope this helps. It will save you tons of time when it comes to writing, sharing, finding, and synthesizing papers. As always, feel free to email me if you have questions.


  1. Kurt Wicke

    Thanks for sharing!

    I just found out a) it’s not working for me, and b) why it’s not working. I’ve tried to apply this method on two different computers, and the path is different:
    users/computerX/dropbox/xxx and

    The computers – being in the same network – do have to have different names. Can you spot a way around this?

    Best/ Kurt

    1. bkvo

      Hi Kurt,

      The path to your “Custom location” within Zotfile should be something like “C:\Dropbox\Papers” This path can vary across computers depending on where your Dropbox folder is located. The name of the computer doesn’t matter.


  2. Sabrina Braham

    Thanks for this! Do you have any advice on PDF annotation? I like to be able to annotate on iPad but can’t figure out how to make that workflow work with zotero. I have tried notability, GoodNotes, printing on paper and scanning back to GoogleDrive…yikes!
    Need a place to store and organize downloaded PDFs/research that will also talk to a PDF annotator (better than Zotero one) so that I can always go back and remember what I learned from that paper. Any advice would be so appreciated!

  3. SP

    Thanks a ton for this, works great! But it does not remove PDFs when you delete them from Zotero at any point, is there any way around this?

    1. bkvo

      Ah great question and good point! It appears you are correct. I don’t have a good solution to this, and in truth, I didn’t notice until now. Thank you for pointing it out–I too would like a solution!

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