Sounds like a job for Monica Gellar...
January 29, 2008 10:55 PM   Subscribe

How can I create an indexing system for the collection of scholarly journal articles that I'm quickly amassing?

I'm currently in an MS program and headed for a PhD in Psychology, thus my collection of articles, and my subsequent ability to access those articles is of growing importance. I had been keeping hard copies in file folders by topic, but the more classes I take and the more I explore my interests, the more the topics converge.

I was thinking that there has to be a way to assign each article a number to go in a database along with some tags for quick searching, as well as something to indicate in which formats I own the article, and other articles that I own that cite the article. My research adviser and I were discussing our mutual disorganization and she alluded to some software a friend purchased that did this or something similar, but my hunch is that I could do this with MS Access (which I own, but am completely unfamiliar with) or something else that I already have, or could have for free.

Your thoughts?
posted by messylissa to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
CiteULike does exactly what you're looking for (though I'm not sure about the MS Access support).
posted by aladfar at 11:14 PM on January 29, 2008

Best answer: See this article in Wikipedia on reference management software. If you have access to an OS X machine, BibDesk is the clear winner.
posted by onalark at 11:30 PM on January 29, 2008

I've heard good things about Papers as well, if you're on OSX.
posted by suedehead at 11:51 PM on January 29, 2008

Best answer: Previously on AskMe 1, 2.
posted by Rumple at 12:38 AM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: Bummer...just to clarify, running Windows XP, not OSX.
The Wiki article looks promising, but I'm still looking...
posted by messylissa at 12:49 AM on January 30, 2008

How do you intend to write up your work? If you're prepared to give LaTeX a go (and I recommend that you do) then BibTeX will do what you want.
posted by gene_machine at 1:50 AM on January 30, 2008

Like everyone else says, use your referencing software, either embedding pdfs so you avoid paper problems, or if you must have paper then using keywords linked to box files with the first keyword attached to each software library entry on the front of the box.
posted by biffa at 2:24 AM on January 30, 2008

I've heard a lot about the animated mindmapping tool Personal Brain:

"Dynamic mind mapping software that lets you link your ideas, files and web pages the way you think. Files and folders are incapable of expressing the mutli-dimensional relationships and concepts that give your information intelligence and meaning."

You can watch a tour to get a better idea.

I think it's free for personal use but there's a Pro version too. I haven't had a chance to evaluate it yet but there seems to be great support with regular web conferences and 101 sessions.

Like you, I plan to index a wide range of documents &folders and this looks perfect, I just don't have the time to build that database yet!
posted by ceri richard at 4:08 AM on January 30, 2008

You might check with your department or school's computing services. I know some universities have software for this available free or very cheap to faculty and staff, usually either ProCite or EndNote, in my experience.
posted by Stacey at 4:42 AM on January 30, 2008

zotero should work, although I haven't tried it.
posted by bru at 7:44 AM on January 30, 2008

zotero is cool. very very cool. If I wasn't already heavily invested (time, not money) in BibDesk, I would use this. Lots of academics do use it. CiteULike also has a lot of social features, which can be cool.
posted by zpousman at 7:55 AM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: IN-CLASS READING:

I too printed out articles for reading for class. I killed a lot of trees.

Most of our profs are making the articles available via PDF anyway nowadays. If there is a course reader/course pack, the course pack printing store can give the set of PDFs to the prof to distribute to you. Most of the articles are probably available online anyway, except for older pieces.

My newish policy: I got a Tablet PC laptop (~$700 HP Pavilion 1000z, look on, and I read on the Tablet and I can even annotate the PDFs. If an article seems to be extremely important, or it is a key model that I need, or something along those lines, I do print it out, but I try to keep the annotated copy.

I keep those PDFs in folders with the class. I also type up summaries (sometimes which is required and sometimes is not) in Notepad for each of the important articles. This is extremely helpful when needing to cite those articles late.


This may not be helpful for the actual PDFs, but here's my new organizing system:

Create an excel sheet with headers for each project that you're working on. Mine are:

Citation | Subject/Participants | IV | DV | Theory | Result | Etc.

And here's an example (joke):

Smith, L. and Miller, B. (1999). Applesauce tastes Good. Journal of Apples, 3, 22-34. | Adol. (9-13 y.o.) Finland | 3 flavors of applesauce: sweet, sour, tart and age | self-report pref | Theory of Reasoned Action | sweet was most preferred by young, tart most preferred by older | good lit review of other apple studies

So, now I have on file these mini-lit reviews for a variety of topics. If a year later I'm trying to find all the stuff that I have on adolescents, I can search (Windows Vista is pretty great for this, but XP works too) for adol* and see all that I have. OR if I am going back to my Applesauce.xls file with all my lit summaries of applesauce studies, I have it right there.

I also save Word docs of all my lit reviews, for each concept, separate from my paper/article. It is really nice if a classmate/friend says "Hey, didn't you write a paper on Theory Z last year?" and I can forward him/her that Word doc (and perhaps the Excel mini-lit review.)

As far as the documents themselves: The vast majority of them are always going to be available on good ol' Google Scholar / library database. So why save them? For articles that I scanned myself and/or had delivered digital ILL, I keep them in a subfolder for the class or the project title. It probably isn't the best way to organize, but it works for me. I title the PDF SmithMiller1993.pdf .

Hope this helps! I tried Zotero and EndNote for a while, but now that I am using the Excel method, I found that typing out the citations wasn't actually that hard AND as a plus, I know APA EXTREMELY well now, compared to when I used Zotero or EndNote.
posted by k8t at 8:00 AM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Good = good... good at APA my ass. ;)
posted by k8t at 8:02 AM on January 30, 2008

I reached the same place you're at a year or so ago. I had piles and piles of journal articles, for the most part "organized" according to which class I'd used them for. Once I finished my coursework I quickly realized that this would no longer serve. Further, many of the articles were in binders, which doesn't make accessing articles particularly easy.

Although I'm fairly tech-savvy, I much prefer the paper/pencil end of the technological spectrum (as opposed to having to use a computer to accomplish even minor tasks, like finding a paper). After agonizing over what to do, I decided to go the low tech route, strange though it may seem.

I bought five Esselte Standard Storage Files, because they're relatively inexpensive and will be easier to move as needed than a metal filing cabinet. I also keep a steady supply of manila file folders. Every time I print out an article, I write the first author's last name in large-ish letters horizontally along the left-hand side (so I can see it when it's sitting in a file folder), and make a folder for that last name if I don't already have one (there might be different people who share the same last name; they all go into the same folder anyhow).

For most articles, I also have an electronic copy which makes it easier as far as searching for a specific article - I name each article on my computer with Lastname.RidiculouslyLongArticleTitle. Many articles are ones that I'm referencing as I write, so a lot of times I'll go back and look at lists of references cited to help me remember which article I'm looking for. When I first planned this system, I meant to make some kind of indexing system on my computer just like you're asking about, with tags and all the rest. The top priority at the time, though, was to do something with all the PAPER. (I pretty much print out any article I'll read/cite/skim, because I like making notes directly onto the paper as I read.) So the filebox/surname system got everything squared away physically, and it's easy to maintain.

I've found, after doing this for the past year, that personally I don't need the electronic part of it. I felt like it would be too much of a time investment at the outset, and it might also become a burden to keep up with. I would advise taking maintenance of your system into account when deciding what to do. For me, the way I'm doing things is simple, and I don't want to make it any more complicated than it is. Software can change, websites can be taken down (or start charging more than I can pay), but none of that will ever affect my system. Now, if my apartment catches fire that will be a different story, but I'm willing (foolishly) to take the risk...

Some of the upsides of the system for me are:

* browsability. I can (and do) look through my article files randomly from time to time, just as I do with books in a library. I much prefer to see things on paper - I remember them better that way.

*portability. I always have a few of these clear plastic envelopes filled with articles for the part of a project (paper, presentation, etc.) that I'm working on. This is more lightweight than hauling my computer around, and with that, a notebook, and a book or two I have enough to be able to go out and work for a couple of hours at a coffeeshop, for example.

*moveability. As previously mentioned, when it comes time to move I'll be able to move one box at a time, rather than an entire filing cabinet. Of course, the boxes do take up space and are larger than a computer.

*accessibility. Easier to access and put away articles than when they were in binders.

*enjoyability. I happen to prefer paper over computers. I like that I came up with a system that feels good to use. I don't like having to be tied to a computer for everything I do. I just plain like paper stuff, and it's nice to have incorporated that into the way I do my research (rather than feeling like I had to do things a certain way because It's The Future).
posted by splendid animal at 12:02 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: Soc MS student here. I recently started using and am insanely in love with Zotero. It's a plugin for Firefox - which you should be using by now, anyway - that basically lives in your statusbar. Click the Z, and it pops up. It really has more features than I care to get into, but here are some highlights:

1. Automatically saves citations from most major research sites. When I'm browsing JSTOR, Zotero puts a little icon up in the address bar. If I see an article I want, I click that icon, and Zotero grabs the citation (and optionally downloads the pdf).

2. Allows you to link and take snapshots of webpages. I read a lot of blogs by people in my discipline, and Zotero lets me grab snapshots of posts for my permanent collection. No worries about ever-shifting links.

3. Lets you tag and store pdfs you already have.

4. You have a lot of hard copies - one thing you could do is find the citation on whatever article database you like, save that to Zotero, and then add a note to that citation (eg, "Stored in File 17" or "In Qualitative Research Methods binder"). Or you could just get all the pdfs.

The real, true, amazing beauty of Zotero is that it lets you tag everything with the same system. Files, citations, links - whatever. Before I had to agonize over whether a pdf belonged in Economic Sociology, Organizational Sociology, or Networks - now I just tag it with all three, the author's name, methodology, whatever else I want.

That said, k8t has some great ideas I'm planning on adopting myself. k8t, would you mind elaborating on why you switched from Zotero to your system?
posted by McBearclaw at 8:26 PM on January 30, 2008

Hey McB.

I found a few things about Zotero that I didn't like:

1. The "APA" citations were actually incorrect, so I spent a lot of time fixing them, which was annoying.

2. At the end of the day, all I really need from most of the stuff I read is the finding, right? So why not have that in an easy to find manner?

Another thing that I like about my system... sorting!

If I want to take my document and sort on subject or on theory, I can do that quite easily. So, for example, if I only need to cite the studies that used Theory W, I can sort on that, or if I only need the studies on toddlers, I can sort on that.
posted by k8t at 9:37 PM on January 30, 2008

PS, mefi mail me if you want an example of this...
posted by k8t at 10:59 AM on January 31, 2008

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