Monday, February 06, 2006

How to: Organize Journal Articles

Let it not be said that I don't respond to readers' comments. A few posts ago, I was moaning about my inability to read journal articles in an efficient and non-fattening way. Yami McMoots requested that I share my system for organizing journal articles, writing that "Curious people who are finally getting quasi-permanent office assignments and file cabinets want to know."

The succint answer: Invest in a copy of EndNote or similar and a thick stack of file folders. As soon after downloading/copying/printing a journal article, add it to your EndNote library. For paper articles, create a manila folder for each 1st author. For PDFs, name them by authors, year, and any other identifying info (subject? journal?) and put them in a folder by letter of the alphabet.

The rationale: I've tried other methods (subject folders, general letter of alphabet folders, by class, by journal (the worst!)) and all have dissapointed me or become too cumbersome. This method takes me a little bit of effort up-front but is much easier to use in the long run.

The details:
We've all seen the professors whose offices are overflowing with stacks of papers and books...don't become one of them. Start using a system as soon as possible in grad school, because it will be hell to catch up with the backlogged paper buildup if you don't.

In Endnote, use one of the superfluous headings (I use "notes") to designate whether the article is paper or electronic, if it was assigned for a class, or if it is filed someplace weird.

I started with multiple end-note libraries. One for thesis, one for -ology #1, one for ology #2...and these were keyed to certain drawers in my file cabinent. Lately I've just been adding everything to my thesis library (and drawer), rationalizing that it won't make sense to keep my thesis papers separate once I'm done with my Ph.D. The jury's still out on this one though. I'm starting to think it will make it harder for me to find pure-thesis papers as it get into the final throes of writing.

If you have a lot of papers by a single author, divide them by subject or year, whatever you can clearly label or delineate.

In a few cases, I've lumped a paper with a terminal M.S. students first author into the folder with their advisor's papers. But I always make sure to note it in endnote.

When I'm feeling really overwhelmed and just don't have to deal with new acquisitions, I put them in a designated place until I can get at them. That way I always know what's been endnoted and what still needs to be done. No point hanging on to a PDF or paper if you are never going to recall you have it.

If you have a PDF, you can cut and past the abstract/keywords into endnote. This will make searching your library easier later on. If there are keywords that the authors didn't include, but that I might find helpful for categorizing a paper, I'll add them.

Some journal sites and databases will import references directly into Endnote for you. This is a time saver, but one caveat...think really hard about importing a reference for a paper you don't yet have. I remember how frustrated Writer Chica got during her M.S., because she could never figure out which papers she had and which were only references she had meant to get.

This kind of feels like an ad for a software product, but I honestly can't imagine scholarly life or graduate school without it.


phd me said...

I follow the same filing system and it definitely makes life easier. Filing by author means lots and lots of folders but it also means I can put my hands directly on the article I need when I need it. And I love EndNote. I couldn't make it through my writing without it!

RageyOne said...

EndNote is great.

I tried several filing systems when I started my doctoral program. I ended up customizing one of the custom fields for a number. Each hard copy or PDF copy is given a number and it is entered in that field. Hard copies are placed in a corresponding folder with that same number. If I have a PDF copy I save the PDF file with that same number.

Finally, I have only one library. I have a second custom field where I typed in the course prefix & number, comps, prospectus, etc.

envirogrl said...

Another Cool trick that you can use in End Note is to actually attach the PDF file directly in the Reference Windows itself. In the new endnote anyways.... while you have the reference window open, you just right click, select something like "insert object" and then select your PDF. it will put a pdf "picture" in the document, and all you have to do is click on it to open to pdf. AND, the best part is, it puts the PDF in a folder so you don't have to keep track of all of them. Its my most FAVORITE thing ever about Endnote!

ScienceWoman said...

Envirogrl - that sounds like a pretty neat trick. I'll have to check it out, but I don't want to give up my current system. I wonder if there's a way to keep things filed where they are...I'll play with it and let ya'll know how it goes.

envirogrl said...

Yeah - i agree starting over would not be fun. Hopefully it comes in handly at some point, if it works for you. I also wanted to say that it is really nice to see these things discussed - I am always wondering if there is a better way to organize my files and such. Thanks for bringing up the topic and for the ideas! :)

yami mcmoots said...

Hey, thanks for the advice! It's file folder party time.

I've been using Connotea to keep track of articles, and I really like how easy it is to add and manage tags/keywords, but of course I need something local that will integrate with the paper-writing process a little better. Does EndNote play well with LaTeX? Currently I'm hoping BibDesk does the trick...

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