Find me my perfect PDF organizer!
November 28, 2013 6:06 PM   Subscribe

In my line of work (doctoring), there are a lot of PDF files that I use, for example, handouts for patients, copies of guidelines, referral forms for particular clinics, etc. I'd love to be able to organize them hierarchically but also access them in a way that lets me search for keywords or tags and returns results quickly and dynamically, with the ability to easily print said PDF results. Are there any programs (for Windows) or cloud-based sites that might make this easy? Ideally it would be great to have a little search bar that could just sit on my desktop, but that would just be icing on the cake. Oh, and I've tried Mendeley - it works somewhat well for this, but it's a hassle to print files unless you open them up in Acrobat Reader or another external program.
posted by greatgefilte to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Evernote is pretty awesome. I use it for everything. Handles PDFs beautifully.
posted by kdern at 6:39 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know you're looking for a windows solution, but it sounds like you want a Mac.

Organize PDFs hierarchically: Check. (Use folders in OS X.)
Search for keywords: Check. (Spotlight search in OS X indexes the text of PDFs automatically.)
Results returned quickly and dynamically: Check. (Spotlight does exactly this.)
Print the PDFs: Check. (Preview opens PDFs very quickly and prints like any other app.)
Search bar on the desktop: Check. (That's where Spotlight lives, in the upper-right corner of the screen.)

But for windows? I think Google Desktop used to do this kind of thing, if it's still around. Otherwise, perhaps consider Evernote?
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:40 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I love Evernote, but as far as I can tell, I'd have to manually attach PDFs to specific notes, which is a lot of work! Is there a quicker way of accomplishing what I want in Evernote?

A Mac is actually not a bad idea but I'm restricted to what the clinic computers run...
posted by greatgefilte at 6:44 PM on November 28, 2013

Papers is something to check out too. It might be a little bit more than you're looking for, but as a Mac user stuck with windows at work, it's what I have resorted to do the things wild-eep describes.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:46 PM on November 28, 2013

I love Evernote, but as far as I can tell, I'd have to manually attach PDFs to specific notes, which is a lot of work! Is there a quicker way of accomplishing what I want in Evernote?

Look, I'm not going to pretend that Evernote can't be a beast and doesn't have some limitations. But I don't think this is one of them. If your PDF's are properly titled, you should be able to drag them into a notebook en masse and have them index automatically by title.

You may also look around for custom Evernote scripts. A quick search pulls up an Evernote Auto Import Folder Script. You may be able to port this over to Windows and/or set some additional custom parameters. Importing PDF's would presumably be as simple as dropping them into a folder.

I'd say by far the biggest problem with Evernote is learning how to use it efficiently. I use a what/who/where/when method that I think (I forget the name) is based on GTD and you can read about it at This is about learning how to power-use tags. There is a temptation to dump everything including the kitchen sink into Evernote, but if you can't get to it easily, you will find yourself burning out on Evernote really quickly. The GTD method involves a little bit of a leap of faith if you "don't get tags" and requires some work up front but once its set up, man is it a breeze.

Evernote is also cross-platform and cloud-based. Those are two big pluses, but if you are talking about storing any private patient information, you may want to consider significant security concerns.
posted by phaedon at 11:00 PM on November 28, 2013

I'll say Evernote too - this is what I use it for. I have PDFs of... well, just about everything that comes across my desk. All easily searchable by the text in the document, which took no extra effort.

The script phaedon noted is in Applescript. It's not going to work on Windows because the Windows version of Evernote doesn't support Applescript. Not really something that can be ported either. I haven't used the Windows version, but I'd be very surprised if you couldn't drag the PDFs onto it to create a note for each document, like phaedon said.

Once you move your backlog into Evernote, you can access everything via the Windows application. Or the web. Or a smartphone app.

They've got a free tier that limits the amount of content you can upload per month and a few other things, and a paid tier that gives you the whole shebang. Give it a try before you decide. I've been on it for about 6 months and can't imagine not having it.
posted by neilbert at 6:30 PM on November 29, 2013

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