Back in January of 2013, I wrote about a digital workflow for managing all my scholarly references via an Android platform. See the post here. Things have changed, namely, I have finally given in to the iPad. My workflow remains pretty similar but the hardware and software updates have actually made it worlds easier. The android system is still viable, but with the ubiquitousness of the iPad, I decided it was time to write a post for all the Apple users out there.
With my office desktop, iPad, and smartphone, I have all the tools I need to help me accomplish a smooth process of researching and writing. The following software and hardware tips are suitable for new and seasoned academics alike. Please feel free to share how you manage your digital space too!
My workflow now includes three pieces of software:
1. Dropbox which I use to sync all my current class, paper, and project files to my desktop, tablet, and smartphone
Dropbox is a cloud computing tool that allows users access to free online space and will sync files across any devices you install on. I currently use the application on my office desktop, tablet, and smartphone. I keep the folder for syncing on my desktop and place all my current project files in it so I have access anywhere since any item in the folder are automatically shared with my other devices. You can also share specific folders with project collaborators while keeping the majority of your files private.
2. Mendeley for syncing all my citation information, reference notes, and automated “cite while you write” (on my smartphone I can search and forward citations to fellow scholars while conversing in the halls or between conference sessions without worrying about forgetting later which is an additional bonus)
I like Mendeley because it has a desktop interface that allows me to use it when I’m not online, yet still synchs all my materials to the online space and all my other devices just like Dropbox. It keeps all my citations up to date. You can store actual copies of references (up to 2 GB) for free, or, use the workflow tips below to keep them organized through your Dropbox and never pay anything!
Mendeley is supported on the iOS, meaning the apps for your phone and iPad are developed by the same developers of the system.
3. iAnnotate PDF for highlighting and annotating of all those references right on my tablet screen – link takes you to iTunes as I am writing about the iPad here, but the app is available from GooglePlay as well. Back when I wrote my original workflow automation post (again, see link here) the app was free. It is now $10 on the iTunes store, but in my opinion worth the money. Keep reading below to find out why.
Now, my updated workflow from my earlier post simply incorporates my tablet computer. This allows me to work on-the-road or between meetings without finding an office space.
1. Drag a PDF file from the downloads folder into Mendeley desktop (or, if like me you already have folders full of them, you can bulk drag-and-drop). Another option is to use the web importer button for more than 30 different sites to instantly import citations from places like Amazon, Google Books, EBSCO, JSTOR, SAGE, etc.
2. Delete the original file if you used the drag-and-drop method above because the re-named file is already sorted into Dropbox. (More on this later.)
3. Check the reference information for accuracy in Mendeley. The program automatically pulls a variety of meta-data and fills it in for you, but it isn’t always perfect. Make any changes needed, then click the “information is correct” button. Add your tags and sort it into any collection you need. After checking it this once, you never have to enter the information in again.
4a. In the notes tab, I fill in my notes while I read, highlight on the PDF in Mendeley, etc. For books from seminars I copy and paste in my book synopsis papers and then go back and insert additional notes after class discussions. If you take your laptop to class with Mendeley, you can add your notes automatically in the program to any citation.
4b. Alternatively, because the file is in my Dropbox, I can open it on my tablet in iAnnotate PDF. In this new version of iAnnotate, you can automatically sync folders or files from your Dropbox to store locally, bypassing the need to remember to download your articles before you get on that plane as you head to a conference! This is a huge time saver since Dropbox for iOS will only store “favorite” files or require you to manually download a copy of whichever article you want (and it means my entire library is always with me). Then, using my GoSmart stylus (the most accurate for fine lines and highlighting that I’ve found, also durable) I can highlight, add comment, handwrite notes, etc. to my heart’s content. Then, using the “email annotations” function, I email all my notes to myself for copying and pasting into the notes tab in Mendeley once I return home. Using this, I can sit by my fireplace and read for hours, read on the plane, or wherever I am that is more comfortable than remaining at my desk all the time. I find I get much more done in reviewing literature using this feature because it gets me out in new locations and keeps me away from the distractions of multiple open windows on my desktop. Since the .pdf files with the annotations are opened through Dropbox, they are automatically synched back to all your other devices. I use the copy-paste function for my notes though so that I have something quick to skim when I am searching through my references while writing.
*Note that if your Mendeley library is under 2GB, you can sync everything right inside Mendeley and skip iAnnotate, but I will tell you that after 5 years as a graduate student I have nearly 3GB of pdfs that I’ve held on to and my library grows weekly. Getting into the habit of sending things to Dropbox as a multiple backup system is also strongly suggested!
5. Use the Cite While You Write tool to automatically generate citations in a variety of formats in Word (also works in Open Office, Google Docs). At the end of your document, “insert bibliography” to instantly get a perfectly formatted References list that doesn’t require you to comb through the paper making sure you haven’t missed one.
Check out my previous post on the UCD NAS Grad Student blog in order to walk you through the steps of setting up you Mendeley and Dropbox sync.