Scrivener and Zotero

Scrivener is awesome software for writing, that I’ve mentioned before, but I had yet to really test out the integration with Zotero (my citation manager of choice). So now that I have finally started on my dissertation writing in earnest (and not grant writing), I needed to make sure that footnotes are usable in my work flow. So this is a quick write up of the tools I will use in writing my dissertation, and how I will use them.

The Tools

LibreOffice: Free and Open Source document software. Who knows how long I will have access to free Microsoft Word? LibreOffice (the fork of OpenOffice) will always be free and freely available. The steps will be basically the same if you are using Microsoft Word, just substitute that program for LibreOffice when it comes to it.

Zotero: I’m certainly biased, but Zotero is the greatest citation management software evar! Also free and open source. I’m using the stand alone version, but you can use the Firefox extension as well. Should work the same.






Scrivener: The greatest writing software I’ve seen. So good I even paid for it. I don’t usually do that with software (as you can see, I like free and open source).





The Process

Here I will try to outline the process I found that will save footnotes from existing documents into Scrivener, and Scrivener created footnotes into exported documents. From there, it’s easy to create Zotero connected footnotes.

1. Copy existing documents with footnotes into Scrivener

Copy from LibreOffice

Copy from LibreOffice

The first issue to run across is to put your existing documents into scrivener. I wrote a paper for Hist 811 that is basically the bulk of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the dissertation. It’s needs some finessing in order to fit in the dissertation. It would be a shame to lose the footnotes, which is what happens if you just use Scrivener’s import file process. This is an easy fix. Just copy the text from your document and paste it into a Scrivener text area.

Then with your Scrivener project open, create a new text area, or select an existing one, which ever, and paste it in. Nothing special there.








2. Create new footnotes in Scrivener

Scrivener makes a Footnote

See how Scrivener makes a footnote!

What is special, though is what Scrivener does with that footnote. See there, footnote number 20, right after the quote about the cocktail of causes and rearmament being one of the ingredients? Now in Scrivener we have the word “ingredient” highlighted and underlined, and on the right side of the Scrivener window, there is a new footnote with all of the content of the original footnote. Sweet!







Easy as Format->Footnote, or use the shorcut keys Ctrl-Cmd-8

That’s all well and good. What if we want to edit the text a little bit, add some good stuff and add another footnote in there? What do we do? Well, Scrivener has a way to add a footnote. Just highlight some text (the footnote will be inserted after the last word), and go to the Format menu and select Footnote. Or you can use the fancy shortcut keys, for faster typing and footnote inserting, Ctrl-Cmd-8 (⌃⌘8).








Look, Ma! A new footnote!

Now you have a new, blank, footnote area to put a footnote reverence in.








Select the reference in Zotero and drag it into the footnote box in Scrivener.

Zotero makes it easy to put the reference in that new empty footnote with drag and drop citations. Just pull up your Zotero (either from Firefox, or if you have the standalone version). Select the reference you want, and drag it into the empty footnote section.








3. Moving from Scrivener to a document, and keeping your footnotes!

So, ideally, you would be able to export your text document, and all of these lovely footnotes you have made in Scrivener, using Zotero, would just magically work in a Word or LibreOffice document. It doesn’t, yet (or ever?). So here is how to get your footnotes into a document, and then get those footnotes to be Zotero enabled.


First, you export your Scrivener document to RTF format.







Select RTF format

Select the plain RTF format, and the first check box for only the selected files (although, you could un check this if you want to do all of your files at once. No other check boxes are needed. Then just hit the Export button.






Open it up with your favorite document program, LibreOffice or Word.

Next, you will want to open your new RTF document in LibreOffice (or Word if you’re using that program).




All my citations are in the house!

You will notice that all of your footnotes are in this file. Yeah! Sometimes the text had odd font sizes and styles. So a quick ‘Select All’ and change it to default style and Times New Roman, 12 pt should fix that right up. Now here is the labor intensive part. For each footnote, we’re going to have to recreate it so that it is handled by Zotero. Then we’ll delete the original footnote. It would be nice of Scrivener could export the footnotes in a way that Zotero could detect them, but alas it is not to be.


Now you add a citation through the zotero buttons to make a zotero-aware citation.









All my citations are in the house!

Insert a Zotero citation using the Zotero buttons in your document program’s menu bar.











I prefer the Zotero classic view.











The new citation find view is pretty slick, though.








You can add pages with a coma, space, number.





Now you have two citations.







With two citations in the document, you’ll need to delete the one that was not made by zotero.






Just make sure you delete the non-zotero aware citation. The Zotero citation is usually highlighted.














Now you can save the document as a different file format: odt, doc, docx

Now save the document as an ODT document. If it is saved as anything else, it will not be Zotero aware.







Take your pick of file types.













Save as the correct file format if you want Zotero to be able to edit them again.








One alternative method is to create footnotes in Scrivener using the format {Author, Year, Page#}. Then export as an RTF document as before. Then, in Zotero, use the ‘RTF Scan’ tool in the Preferences menu. Zotero will see all of the citations and replace them nicely with formatted citations (using Ibid. and short notation for repeat books, and such). Zotero will not be aware of these citations at all, so if you need them to be Zotero aware, you might as well use the steps outlined above. If you do not expect to update citations or the text once done in Scrivener, then this may be the easiest way to go.

Now I can happily transfer existing documents into Scrivener and save the footnotes!

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16 thoughts on “Scrivener and Zotero

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  3. Kira A. Randolph

    Hi Ammon, thank you for this very helpful post. I am also writing a history PhD (specifically Art History). I’d already been using Scrivener but didn’t have a citation manager that I liked. Thanks to your post, and importing citations all morning, I’m that much closer to a full-draft, including a bibliography! All the best with your dissertation.

  4. Tavia

    I have to say that this sounds like a very laborious and time-intensive process! Particularly when compared with the ease of use of Zotero as a word processor plug-in. I am curious: what is the compelling reason for you to use Scrivener to write your dissertation, given the all the added steps it will introduce to keeping all your citations formatted and up to date? And might someone find a way of simulating any of those Scrivener features in OpenOffice?

    1. ammon Post author


      You’re right. It is a lot more work than just using a word processor and Zotero. What I really like about Scrivener is the ability to organize my writing into bits a pieces, and then be able to easily reorganize those bits. In a normal word processor, your writing is one long continuous flow of text. You can add headings and such to break it up, but my mind doesn’t work so well with that. I like to be able to break the large paper into smaller chunks, see those chunks visually as note cards, and be able to arrange them as needed.

      For example, the first chapter of my dissertation has six specific aspects/arguments/themes/topics to it. Each of those topics are to support the main idea of the chapter. I can write out each of those arguments separately, reorganize them visually to make the most compelling overall argument, quickly, and visually see which argument needs more work, etc.

  5. Janet Holmes

    This looks great except that when I go to my trial copy of Scrivener the Format drop down box doesn’t include a Footnote option, only an Inline Footnote option. Is this because I only have a trial version or do I have something wrong in my settings? If I can’t find someway to get Zotero and Scrivener together I will have abandon Scrivener, which I do not want to do. I have 23 days until my trial ends.

    1. Ole Rogeberg

      Could this be a difference between how Scrivener shows footnotes in the windows and mac version?

    2. Marcus

      (I know this is from 2012 but thought it could help)

      I think the issue you are having is that you must highly some text (like the last word plus period or whatever) before clicking footnote, otherwise footnote is grayed out as an option. You don’t have to do that with an inline footnote since that just turns on making whatever you type next an inline footnote.

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    1. ammon Post author

      That’s a great set up. Basically, write in scrivener -> put citations in scrivener with zotero -> export scrivener to RTF -> convert RTF with zotero -> final edits and tweaks in word processor. Thanks for sharing!

  7. chapeskie

    I want to use Scrivner for writing my dissertation but have been unable to get Zotero to populate the bibliography as my other citation manager does (writencite+word), am I missing something? Using writencite (the plug-in for refworks online citation manger) I can insert a tag for a specific citation in the text and at the end of it all hit the bibliography button and it creates the full bibliography based on the tags found throughout the document. So useful! So far, however, I haven’t found a way to do this with Zotero, any ideas?

    1. ammon Post author

      Hi chapeskie,

      I found a couple of pages on the zotero website that should help with creating a bibliography:

      The easiest way is to just select all of the items in Zotero, then export those in bibliography format to a new RTF file, then copy and paste that into your document. I’m pretty sure the Zotero+Word plugin has the ability for bibliography creation built in, though.

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