How to upgrade to WORD 2016 Mac with Zotero standalone

Shame on Zotero for making such a dog's dinner of what should be a very simple upgrade, and then compound it by issuing misleading information and instructions.

Like many people I recently upgraded my Word for Mac 2011 to 2016, only to find that Zotero stopped working, and the obvious ways of upgrading simply do not work. I am a regular Zotero user and love it to bits, so this was a massive disappointment. I then found that there are a lot of misleading suggestions out there that also do not work, and just waste a massive amount of time. I had to continue using WORD 2011 for a few weeks until one Sunday I spent several hours getting it to work.

I finally succeeded.

Then I spent another hour typing it up so you do not have to waste that time :-)

N.B. These instructions are for people upgrading to WORD for Mac 2016 with standalone Zotero on a Mac. I can’t help PC users, Firefox users or anyone else, so please start a separate thread for any other problem.
I have no connection with Zotero and found all this out by experiment. I am trying to be helpful by telling you what worked for me, but cannot take liability for the results.

Here is the summary of what you do…
1. Get the latest version of Zotero standalone (even if you think you already have it)
2. Get the latest version of the WORD add-in (even if you think you already did)
3. Link the Zotero WORD add-in to WORD 2016 (even though this should be automatic)
4. Activate it and make sure it works.

In detail…

1. Get the latest version of Zotero.
a. To check what version you have now go to Zotero --> about Zotero. If you already have 4.0.29 go straight to step 2.
b. I had Zotero 4.0.20 installed, had used it for years, it worked fine. I thought it was the latest version because it said it was! It was on automatic update, and if I pressed the manual update button it said there were no further updates. This is not true!
c. To get the real latest version you have to go back to the Zotero website using any browser - it does not have to be Firefox - and install Zotero as if you were doing it for the first time. When you come to moving the app to the applications folder, say ‘yes’ to replacing the old ‘’ file.
d. Start Zotero and go to Zotero --> about Zotero. Check you have version 4.0.29. If not re-do step 1.

2. Get the latest version of the WORD add-in.
a. You can find the add-in, ‘’ by searching your Mac with Finder. Both old and new versions are called ‘’ but the old WORD 2011 version has a file date of 14 Dec 2013, the new WORD 2016 version is dated 16 Mar 2016. If you already have the 16 Mar 2016 version go to step 3.
b. If you want to keep the old file for any reason, back it up somewhere now because the next instruction is going to overwrite it. However, you don’t need to. I have checked, and the new file still works OK with WORD 2011.
c. To download the add-in, in Zotero go to Preferences --> Cite and press the button ‘reinstall WORD add-in’. Ignore all the crap on the website about downloading it using Firefox; it doesn’t work! Forget Firefox. Note that you have to do this after step 1, because if you do it from the older version of Zotero you get the older version of the add-in. [So many false trails I followed!]
d. Repeat step 2a to check that you now have the ‘’ file with the date 16 Mar 2016 somewhere on your disk.

3. Link the Zotero WORD add-in to WORD 2016.
a. Yes, this should be automatic, but when Zotero (even the latest version) downloads the plug-in, it assumes you want it installed for WORD 2011 (!), so it downloads to Applications/ Microsoft Office 2011/ Office/ startup/ word. But my WORD 2016 has its startup folder by default at Applications/ Office/ startup/ word.
b. To check where your word startup folder is, in WORD go to Preferences--> File locations, and look at the path name for Startup.
c. If you want a different startup folder location (for example I decided to create mine at Applications/Microsoft Office 2016/Office/startup/word so that I can run WORD 2011 and WORD 2016 at the same time), create the folder with Finder then in WORD go to Preferences--> File locations end edit the path name for Startup to whatever you decided to use.
d. Ultimately, you need to get the (new) ‘’ file into whatever start-up folder your new WORD 2016 is now using. Do this simply by making a copy (Cmd-C) from wherever Zotero put it, and paste it in the correct folder (Cmd-V) for WORD 2016.

4. Activate it.
a. It is wise to close and re-open both Zotero and WORD at this point.
b. In WORD go to Tools --> templates and add-ins. You should be able to see If the box to activate it is not already ticked, tick it now. If you do not see it, go back to step 3.
c. Click on the Add-ins tab in the ribbon. This is new and was not obvious to me! In WORD 2011 Zotero has a separate toolbar, in WORD 2016 it is a tab on the ribbon. It took me ages to realise this! I like it now I found it, it just takes getting used to.
d. You can now test Zotero by inserting a citation. If it works you are done. If it says “cannot communicate with Zotero make sure Firefox is running”, that is a typically misleading message; it really means your stand-alone is not running, so start it up. If it says “cannot communicate with Zotero …” when Zotero IS running, then you messed up at step 2 and probably still have the old version of the add-in.

Yes that was a mammoth task to do a very simple upgrade, but it’s nice when it works.

Dear Zotero, please please please sort out this problem with the next upgrade:
1. Change all instructions and error messages so you are not assuming standalone users are using Firefox, this is only confusing.
2. Make the automatic update function work, so it is clear whether or not we have the latest version of Zotero.
3. When reinstalling the WORD add-in, please put it in the right startup folder for WORD! If there is more than one (two versions of WORD installed), ask us which we want to use, or put it in both.
4. In your instructions make it clear where we should expect to see the Zotero toolbar, because it is not where it used to be!

We thank you. Zotero is a brilliant product but this malarkey is annoying and time-wasting.
  • 1. Where did it refer to Firefox? The Mac error message should all refer to either Firefox or Zotero Standalone, but possible we missed this somewhere.

    2. The broken update was a problem, yes. Obviously that'll be fixed for the next version.

    3. Obviously we wish that'd be the case; the Word 2016 startup folder has proven quite elusive, so can't promise that'll get fixed quickly for all users.

    4. We mention this here: but happy to add it somewhere else -- where did you look?
  • AndySymons,
    On behalf of the user community thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to go through this procedure and post it. For those of us primarily using Standalone, it is essential.
    One quick comment. Zotero is a non-profit open source product, powered by what I am guessing is a very small staff and a larger user community. Neither staff nor community can anticipate every possible problem in advance (unlike Microsoft ;). So again, thank you for your contribution, but maybe be a bit more tolerant of staff (I'm not affiliated with Zotero in any way and I also often find instructions frustrating).
    Lew Friedland
  • Dear AndySymons

    Thank you so very much; I am so grateful to you for this post.
    It solved my problem
    I was like more than crazy with this problem; finally saw the end

    Thanks mate one again
  • edited June 30, 2016
    Thank you so much AndySymons, you solved a problem that has plagued me for months. The Word plugin worked for me on one iMac, so I had to do all my paper writing there. This afternoon I finally mustered the momentum to start fixing this problem for my other machine and after a couple hours of Google and Zotero documentation and reinstalling Office 365, I was still at square 1. However, 5 minutes after stumbling across your instructions the Zotero Word plugin worked!

    Cheers! :D
  • Hello AndySymons - thank you so much for posting this!! I wished I had read your post earlier before going through all the terrible instructions in the earlier forum. Thank you for saving me time and solving my problem!!!
  • THANK YOU ANDY! I've been stuck all day with this issue until I ran into your great advice.
  • Thank you SO MUCH. I also found it frustrating that all the installation instructions refer to installing the firefox plugin and not the word integration. I do not like having to tab back and forth from my home screen (where I modify text as bold, underlined, etc) and my zotero tools. Is there a way to get the zotero toolbar visible in the home tab? It worked better in word 2011.
  • Thank you so much AndySymons. You saved me :)
  • Thank you, Andy! Such a huge help!
  • Life. Saver. Seriously.

    So annoying....
  • Thank you so much, Andy, you saved my life too!
  • THANK YOU!!!
    I really appreciate that you took the time to write this.
    You rescued me !!!
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