My latest at ProfHacker: Managing references with Paperpile

A pile of journal articlesAh, research. No matter our field, we need to organize our source materials and keep track of our notes. As we write, we need a convenient way to insert citations and manage reference lists.

We’ve spilled a lot of digital ink over the years writing about reference managers, such as Zotero and Mendeley, that can help us accomplish those tasks.

I’m a long-time user of Zotero, and I’ve often recommended it to my students (sometimes I’ve even required them to use it for an assignment). I’ll continue to recommend it.

Recently, though, I’ve found that Zotero doesn’t always work well for the way I want to work with my PDFs: I want to be able to read and annotate them on mobile devices, across platforms. I found PaperShip, which syncs with both Zotero and Mendeley. It was slow for me, though — and it’s only available for iOS and the Mac. Sometimes I find myself on an Android device.

There are ways other than PaperShip to work with Zotero PDFs on a mobile device, but none of the options I found (Zandy for Android, ZotPad for iOS) worked quite the way I wanted them to. Yes, I could open a PDF from them and annotate it in my favorite mobile app, but then I’d have to remember to send the annotated file back to Zotero. That’s just not the sort of thing I’m good at remembering to do.

What I really needed for my workflow was something that would integrate with Google Drive, so I was happy to come across Paperpile1 recently (it’s been around for a while; I just hadn’t been aware of it prior to a few weeks ago). It won’t be for everyone. It’s designed to work with Google Documents, which may not please some (though Chromebook users will probably love it). Because it uses Drive for storage, it works very well with mobile annotation apps that can sync with Drive.

Here’s a screenshot of my Starred folder (click to enlarge the image):

Starred items in Paperpile

I star only those sources that I’m currently reading, and sync only that folder with my mobile apps. Any annotations I make to the attached PDF are automatically synced. I can mark up the PDF in iAnnotate, GoodReader, PDF Max, etc. on a tablet, or in any desktop application or web app that works with Drive. (That includes Paperpile’s own MetaPDF, which works well and which they’re working on integrating with the reference manager). It’s all seamless — which is exactly what I needed.

Not everyone, of course, does their writing in Google Documents. I do some of my writing there, but more and more I find myself writing in plain text using Markdown, and formatting my documents using Pandoc. That hasn’t posed a problem for me. I can simply add the references I need to a folder (or just attach a label to them) and export the list as a BibTeX file. It works well.

Paperpile probably isn’t a good choice for those who prefer to do their writing in Word, or for those who need to be able to access their references offline.2 Everyone’s use case is a bit different. For now, it seems to be working better for me than the traditional desktop applications do.

What do you look for in a reference manager? What features are most important to you, and which reference manager do you find works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier

  1. Unlike Zotero and Mendeley, Paperpile isn’t free (though the pricing, especially for academic use, is reasonable). If you’re considering it, you’ll probably want to take advantage of the 30-day trial before making a decision.?
  2. Those who use Google Drive’s offline capabilities will be able to access the PDFs themselves, but not their notes or other information.?

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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