I have long struggled with finding an efficient way to organize the literature I read for my research. My “system” during my undergraduate degree and master’s degree was to print, and annotate directly on the document. Then, maybe (big maybe), I would loosely organize the articles by topic. This left a lot of time digging through piles of articles. As much as I preferred reading on paper, I needed something that was more organized and searchable. Additionally, I will admit to sometimes reading the same article two or three times without realizing it. So, I needed something that would help me avoid duplication.
Why not a reference manager?
Firstly, my reference manager is a mess. I’m not an organized person, I am very inconsistent with keeping a logical filing system. I’ve debated starting from scratch in Mendeley (what I have used for 8 years) or switching to Zotero, but I keep putting it off as a non-essential task.
Additionally, I am not a huge fan of the interface and annotating capabilities within Mendeley. It’s not very dynamic, and I wanted to make things a little flashy.
Evernote has pretty mixed reviews online. People love it and use it to organize their whole lives, others can’t get over the glitches. It is very glitchy, I’ll talk about this after. However, I wanted to give it a shot. So far, it is working quite well. The interface is simple and customizable.
I use it to annotate and store all my research literature. Firstly, I ensure the file name is in the correct format, “Last name YEAR title.” Then, I tag each item with the following:
- (AU) Author last name and initial
- (SO) Source/Journal
I do not limit the number of keywords and will tag with any relevant topic that is covered in the article. This allows for easy searching as I can click the main keywords/topics I want to look at and it will show me only the related articles.
I can annotate by using different coloured highlighters, and stamps to draw attention to certain things. I can make notes directly on the pdf. However, this is where things start to get glitchy. The text sometimes remains fuzzy or disappears until you click on it. This is annoying, but not the end of the world, hopefully they fix it soon.
In regard to avoiding having duplicates of articles, or wasting my time accidentally reading the article twice, it seems to have eliminated that. As I start tagging the documents, it is easy to notice that the file may already be in the system. I can quickly check by pulling up the (AU) tag, and delete the duplicate.
Recently I also used it to snip the instructions and form for a grant proposal. I was able to share this with the Principal Investigator, highlight key instructions and requirements. It worked quite well for this, I think anyways. We then were able to build a rough application in Google docs.
Overall, I think this system has helped a lot with redundancy and providing some form of organization while still being a document dump. However, I have found that ultimately, I still need to make physical notes to help with my writing and tracking what was important for a particular paper.
I have also started notebooks for collecting random reading/materials for topics of interest or projects I am working on. Also, for organizing the minutes for various committees I am on.
What tools do you find helpful for organizing your literature/life?
Check out other instalments in the Organizational Tools Series