Tuesday, August 28, 2012


One of the most useful resources I have yet found for organizing and annotating papers is the reference manager Mendeley. Mendeley's incredible powers are self-evident; only mere months ago I was surrounded by towering stacks of papers, feeling guilty that I had massacred countless trees in order to produce reams of articles that I would never get around to anyway. Then I found Mendeley, burned all those papers with extreme prejudice (what else can you do with a stack of papers you don't want to read?), and haven't looked back. Now, instead of wasting money on pens, paper, and highlighters, every paper I have ever read is at my fingertips as long as I have a computer and an Internet connection. Now, instead of hazarding the inability to read my chicken-scratches that I wrote down months ago on a sheet of paper, I have everything typed up nice and legible. Now, instead of feeling like just another dweeb whose desk space is swamped with more than he can handle, providing visible proof of his incompetency and slovenliness, I can hide that dweebiness down, deep down, where nobody can ever find it.

Mendeley has a host of features, many of which are documented on their website; I will only mention a couple here that I find particularly useful. First, in addition to inserting and formatting references into word processors, Mendeley also features an intuitive interface and allows the user to organize papers quickly and easily.

Mendeley Interface. Folders are on the left; list of returned search items in the middle; reference information on the right.

However, in my experience the most useful feature is Mendeley's built-in PDF reader, which opens up articles in a separate tab for easy reference. The paper can then be marked up with annotations, notes, and highlights, which is useful for writing down your deepest thoughts, feelings, and musings on complex yet beautiful scientific topics.

Papers can also be shared with groups of coworkers and friends through Mendeley's online sharing system, which works quite smoothly. Share those papers, even with people who don't want them or haven't even asked for them, and feel a sense of satisfaction that you are doing something good for someone else.

Let me share a personal habit. In my most private moments, when the air is so still you can hear the sound of the lid of a jar of Nutella being unscrewed, where the only smell is the faint odor radiating from my socks, and when I am absolutely sure nobody is watching, I select multiple references using the shift key and then insert them into a Word document. Try it.

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