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How do you organize your papers?

  1. May 12, 2012 #1
    (Maybe this should be in general discussion?)

    As the title said: how do you organize your papers? I'm curious to hear what works from some academic veterans. I've been accumulating more and more papers and have since run into trouble finding certain ones.

    Do you sort by author, by subject, by date? Do you use a file cabinet, a binder, or just stack them?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2012 #2
    They go from an organized binder, to loosely packed within a backpack, to strewn about the floor, to under the bed, and then finally to the garage. I need a better system!
  4. May 12, 2012 #3


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  5. May 12, 2012 #4


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    I've got them all on my computer (I tend to lose hard copies, and don't print them out unless I plan to write all over them) and I organize them using Mendeley. It's a free program, picks up almost all text, titles, and authors automatically (searchable PDF), lets you highlight, make notes, and save them, and search by authors, keywords, and more.
  6. May 12, 2012 #5


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  7. May 13, 2012 #6
    Zotero for pdf stuff. Zotero is excellent for archiving stuff. For example, in one other thread, I made a statement about the definition of youth in the great depression. Someone contradicted it, so right now I'm going through my papers to find out where I got that idea.

    Also, piles are good way. Something that is interesting gets put on the top of the pile.
  8. May 13, 2012 #7


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    I am a mathematician (wannabe), being disorganized is part of the trade.
  9. May 13, 2012 #8

    Thanks for the suggestions - I'll look into both.
  10. May 13, 2012 #9
    This book is pretty relevant


    It turns out that there is a method to the madness. Scientists can *seem* disorganized, but it turns out that there is an extremely organized system of classification based on paper, and efforts to get rid of paper turn out to break because they aren't as flexible as "throwing stuff on the floor."

    It's getting better with tablet computing, but it's still not quite there yet.

    Also, based on person experience, there seems to be some connection between "messy office" and the "method of loci"


    Something that I noticed is that when papers are scattered all over the office, it's possible to associate an idea with a location. (i.e., the papers about neutrinos are near the door, the papers about GR are in the closet).

    The other thing is that having a messy office helps creativity. One good way of coming up with new ideas is to just randomly put old ideas together, and sometimes one paper randomly ends up next to another, and that gives you some ideas.

    I'm sure that it's *possible* to create paperless tools that replicate a messy office, but we aren't there yet.
  11. May 13, 2012 #10
    I've found an opposite problem. Sometimes when I find a really good paper, I end up printing it out because I've found that links tend to disappear after a few months. Also, one really frustrating thing is when you find a wonderful paper, and then a few days latter, it disappears into the internet, because you can't find the search terms you used to get to the paper.

    This tends not to happen with astrophysics papers since ADS and the Los Alamos preprint server give "stable links". It's a big problem with economics papers, since a lot of them are working papers, and a really, really big problem with anything pedgalogical (i.e. lecture notes). One thing that made me a fan of zotero is that you can download the PDF or not.

    However, one thing that I've noticed is that my use of paper has drastically decreased over the last three years because the online tools have started to catch up. I'm looking forward to some developments in tablet computing, because at some point someone will come up with a tool in which you can scribble over a PDF.

    One tip if you really want to reduce your use of paper. Move your office often. The one really bad part of the "office floor filing system" is that it's a pain if you have to move.
    Last edited: May 13, 2012
  12. May 14, 2012 #11
    CiteULike works for me. Since it can be connected with mendeley, I wonder whether mendeley would be of any benefit for me.
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