Answered By: David Vess
Last Updated: Sep 08, 2020     Views: 2

Good to know ​

  • This tutorial is meant to help migrate citations from RefWorks into Zotero. 
  • Zotero has a good documentation site that should help with most questions. 
  • The following processes are the same for Macs and PCs except a few, where noted. 
  • If you migrate to Zotero from RefWorks, and you organize your citations into folders in RefWorks, be aware that you cannot import your entire citation database in one step into Zotero and retain your folders. We offer a workaround in Step 2.2 to maintain them and that process is:
    • export each folder from RefWorks separately,
    • name the downloaded file with the name it had in RefWorks, and
    • import each of those files into Zotero. 

Exporting Your Database with or without Folders 

  1. Log into Refworks at with your JMU email address and the password you chose to use. The password won't be the one associated with your e-ID because this service isn't connected to our authentication system which also means you cannot log in via the Use login from my institution link.  

  2. You have two choices in this step: 
    1. If have no need to maintain folders you created in RefWorks and wish to simply import your entire citation database into Zotero, then select the:
      1. All References button in the left navigation bar,
      2. Share button in the bar across the top of the list, and
      3. Export References button in the Share menu. 

    2. If you wish to import your citations into Zotero as they are arranged into folders in RefWorks, you will need to export each folder from RefWorks and import them into Zotero separately. You cannot export your entire citation database into Zotero without loosing your RefWorks folders. Also, as you download your exported file, rename it with the name you used in RefWorks as it will be named export by default.

      Select the:
      1. My Folders button in the left navigation bar,
      2. folder of citations you wish to export,
      3. Share button in the bar across the top of the list, and
      4. Export References in the Share menu 

  3. A small window will open that will ask you to choose which format you wish to export your citation database into. Note that Zotero will accept imports with BibTeX and RIS formats. 

  4. Next, you may be presented with a small window to verify you wish to receive a download from the RefWorks website. If you are downloading an export of each of your folders, rename them when they are saved to your computer. 

  5. When finished, you will see a message in a small green ribbon appear at the top edge of the RefWorks page confirming the number of citations that were exported. 

  6. You have two choices in this step: 
    1. If you don't have a file structure you would like to carry over to Zotero, then follow the below steps, starting with step 7, to download Zotero and import your citations.
    2. If you have a file structure you wish to carry over to Zotero, then name the file you just downloaded with the name you gave it in RefWorks. 
      1. Next, repeat the process, starting with steps 2.2. above, until you download each folder from RefWorks to your computer. 
      2. After all your folders are downloaded to your computer from RefWorks, follow the below steps starting with step 7 to download and installed Zotero and import your citations.  
  7. Next, follow the instructions to download the Zotero application to your computer from The download page should sense which operating system you are using. Install the software as you would any and open it.

  8. After the application is installed to your computer, the download page should change to show you which browser plugin to install.  Note that Mac users running Safari 13 will only need to install the application. The application will add something to Safari to allow you to gather citations via Safari which is explained on this page

  9. To import your database, open Zotero on your computer and choose Import from the File menu. 

  10. You have two options in the next small window that will appear. The first is to import from BibTeX, RIS, Zotero RDF and the second option is Mendeley for Mac users.  For more information, see Importing from Other Reference Managers on the Zotero website. 

  11. You have a few options in this step to consider:
    1. First, you can check off "Place imported collections and items into new collection" if you would like to add the import to a collection. Collection is another name for folders in Zotero. For more about collections, see the Collections and Tagging page on the Zotero site.  If you used folders before in RefWorks, and exported each folder, this is the step where you can replicate the folder structure you used in RefWorks. 
    2. Under File Handling, you have two options but if you are importing files from RefWorks, choose "Copy files into the Zotero storage folder." The second option "Link to files in original location" is for importing from other services where you might have used an external folder like Dropbox to store your files. For more on these options, see Adding Files to your Zotero Library.

  12. After importing one file or cycling through importing each of your exported RefWorks folders, you will see this window noting the number of items imported. 

  13. If you imported one file, your Zotero screen will look something like the below first image, with the list of citations displayed under the My Library left navigation bar.  If you exported citations from each of your RefWorks folders and imported them using the "Place imported collections and items into new collection" option in Step 11.1, then your Zotero screen will look something like the below second image with a list of your folders under My Library in the left navigation bar.  


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