If you have only a few dozens items in your Zotero library, you probably won’t have thought too much about its search features; once you have a few hundred, then you’ll notice just how good it is. The basic search function allows you search the bibliographic data, such as title and creator, and also (most excitingly) the full text of any attached PDFs. With the advanced search feature you can start combining criteria and getting really sophisticated.
You’ll probably find that you run some advanced searches on a regular basis, for example to locate all the journal articles you’ve marked ‘to be read’. Rather than manually searching each time, you can quickly and easily set up a saved search that appears as a link in the left-hand column. Here’s how.
First, build your advanced search by clicking on the magnifying glass icon above the middle column.
Now enter your search criteria:
1) Decide whether you want to match all or any of your search criteria.
2) Specify the field to be searched (there is also an option to search ‘Attachment Content’ for PDFs).
3) Choose your condition:
contains – finds items that contain your search term
is – finds items that match your search term exactly
is not – finds items that do not match your exact search term
does not contain – finds items that don’t contain your search term (e.g. you could find everything that doesn’t mention Dickens in the title)
4) Enter your search term.
5) Click the plus sign to add more search criteria (make sure you’ve chosen ‘Match all’ in stage one if you want the results to meet all of your criteria).
In this example the search retrieves any journal articles tagged ‘tbr’ (to be read) that contain ‘Queen Victoria’ in the title. You can add as many tags as you like to further refine your search.
You’ll notice an option to save your search.
Click it and your search appears in the left-hand column, just below your collections.
This saved search is also dynamic, so items are automatically added to the results when they match the search criteria. If I add the tag ‘tbr’ to a journal article with ‘Queen Victoria’ in the title, it’ll show up in this list. Conversely, if I remove the ‘tbr’ tag after reading the article, it immediately disappears.
I’ve found saved searches really useful for quickly finding out exactly what I need to do on a particular research project. Please do let me know if you have any other examples.
Find out more in How to Manage References with Zotero.