"Highlighted citation no longer exists" error keeps popping up

I've been using Zotero with Microsoft Word in Windows 10 for some time now, but only in the last few days have I started to see the following message whenever I try to edit a citation:

"The highlighted citation no longer exists in your Zotero database. Do you want to select a substitute item?

Clicking 'No' will delete the field codes for citations containing this item, preserving the citation text but deleting it from your bibliography."

I now see this message whenever I try to edit an existing citation. I even get it when I try to create a new citation! In these cases I have no idea what "the highlighted citation" is referring to since I'm trying to create a new one.

I know that there are several other forum discussions related to this error, but none of the ones I have found deal with this particular incarnation of it. I just upgraded to Zotero 5 and double-checked that my library was synced and up-to-date. Thus it is simultaneously frustrating and mystifying to be repeatedly be told the highlighted citation "no longer exists in my Zotero database."

One final thing to note: it seems to matter which computer I use. Generally, I see the error above if I try to use one computer to edit a document that I created on another. If I open the document on the computer that I initially used to create it, this error does not appear.

I appreciate any thoughts anyone has.
  • It sounds like the items have not synced from the other computer to this one. Check to see if you have a sync error on either computer.
  • Does the original computer still have Zotero 4 on it? If so, if you open the document preferences on that computer (under the Zotero tab), does the checkbox to store citation data in the document is unchecked?
  • Hi all. I am going to be meeting with a student this afternoon. Was there any update on the problem noted above. The student I am working with sent me this note below.

    "Iā€™m unable to add a citation to the doc. because an error message pops up. Additionally, it appears that the citations in the document are not linked to the list of references anymore. Here is a screen shot of the error message that pops up on the document while it highlights one citation. Looks like the issue started after I copy pasted content from another doc. It specifically highlights 7-8 citations in the material I pasted. I tried to reinsert the same 7-8 citations but the problem returns. I've attached below a screen shot."

    The screen shot she sent me sends message that "The highlighted citation no longer exists in your Zotero database", etc.

    Can folks send me suggestions ? Or point me to where I might look for or what I might try ? Thanks for whatever is possible. pfehrman@kent.edu
  • This is not a general issue. Your student is copying text and citations from a document written with Zotero version prior to 5.0, where storing citation data in the doc had been disabled. There is nothing else she can do other than removing all citations that trigger this error from the document and reinserting them manually using the plugin, after which the sailing should be smooth.
  • Hi again. Will share with students. Again... thanks adomsven !
  • Hi y'all. I am having this issue with every new citation that I try to insert. I've gone through this forum, reinstalled both Zotero and the Word plug-in and am at my last wits. I originally copied and pasted from a previous document to create this one. I am so frustrated, I can't get any citation to insert. Please help.
  • @insideinc: Was this document created with Zotero 4 (i.e., from 2017 or earlier)? If so, see what Adomas says above. If you created this document with Zotero 5, see Debugging Broken Documents.
  • dstillman, Thank you. I was hoping there was a way around that. I am revising a writing that began at 30,000 words to an article of about 6,000 words.
    Has anyone had luck with installing Zotero 4, editing the doc and checking the storing citation data in the doc and then reinstall in v. 5.?
  • No, that's a misunderstanding. The issue here is that the items no longer exist in your database ā€” and the metadata wasn't embedded in the document ā€” so switching back to Zotero 4 wouldn't do anything. If the items existed in your database, Zotero 5 would be able to get the data from the database itself..

    Note that this would only happen when using a different database from the one you were using previously when you inserted the citations (in Zotero 4 or earlier, with metadata embedding turned off). So if you still have access to the computer where the citations were created, you should be able to either sync that computer with your current one or refresh the document there with Zotero 5 to embed metadata in the document.

    If that's not possible, your only option is to reinsert the affected citations, which should be focused in the document when you get this error.
  • dstillman: Thanks so much for your reply. The document was created a number of years ago using V. 4 or earlier. I can see the references in my Zotero library and have synced my computer with my web library. It won't allow me to insert any new citations. I don't have access to the previous computer. Long gone. I deleted a reference, uploaded it to my library collection and still have the same issue. I only have one database and it is the source for all my citations. Is my only option then to write them manually at citation points for footnotes?
  • You don't have to write anything manually.

    But as long as you're getting that message, you have citations in the document from items that are no longer in your library. You need to delete and reinsert those citations using the items in your library.

    Again, when you get the message, there should be a citation focused in the document, which is how you know which citation you need to reinsert. It has nothing to do with the citation you're currently inserting.
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