Organising Articles


Hey folks,

does anyone have any good tips on organising the wealth of articles they amass during studies and PHD's and so on?

I have somewhere over 350 articles just from 2 semesters at my masters, and I need a more efficient system at organising them than just dropping them all into a folder and having an excel sheet that contains,

article name

Its too big and not very good for looking up information.

Does anyone have any better ideas?

I considered building a small script that puts this information into a database, but I am not sure that I gain all that much with it. I also use mendeley for searching, but if I am offline then it doesn't really work for me. Also I add a lot of meta data to my articles, I write notes and so on that I would like to have attached to the articles for easy searching and reviewing.



Have you tried downloading the Mendeley software for your desktop - it's free and useful for referencing. I have about 15 categories in Mendeley for different types of article and that has also been valuable. It will take a few hours to put all of your papers onto Mendeley but will be worth it, especially when it comes to doing your Masters dissertation and possible PhD.

I annotate articles a lot as well so have a large and ever-increasing amout of paper copies - to organise those I have a filing cabinet with hanging files and I just assign a file (sometimes more than one depending on number of articles) to a category and organise them that way. I just write the category on the file but you can colour code them as well.

hope that's helped.


I'm not sure if this is what you mean, but I organise my PDFs by topic, starting broad and getting specific. I can pretty mcuh find whatever I want (only problem is when an artical covers more than one topic area....but if I was starting again I think I'd duplicate and put it in both). You could do the same within a spreadsheet too or have a topic area so you could the sort by topic to find things.


I'd also recommend Mendeley desktop. You can use it offline, and just synch it when you're online. You can add your own tags which you can then search on, which is handy. I've filed my papers into several folders using it but folders are a bit restrictive when papers maybe cover more than one topic, so tags are useful.

Sounds like you're already pretty organised!


Ah, i was not aware that there was a desktop program for mendeley i should look into that, hopefully it will be easier than entering all the information myself


I like medeley but I don't like to rely on reference management software as it has a tendency of messing things up. I download all of my papers into one file and name them like this "YEAR_AUTHOR_JOURNAL_TAG.1_TAG.2_TAG.3_TAG.20" the tags represent key words that I can then search for later without reference management software. Typical tags are which chapter I am writing for, the date I found the article and the name of the person who recommended it to me. For more info check out my literature review blog


While such a naming convention is not a bad idea, I use a mixture of systems, and while I haven't tested how long a filename can be on my linux system, my laptop/(windows) has a limit to how long a filename can be, especially when it is combined with the folder path.

I've come to the conclusion of doing something similar.

I've come up with this structure.

Download -- folder where everything is initially placed when downloading articles or other reference material
Processing -- folder where articles / reference material is placed while I am processing it
Notes -- folder that contains the .txt and the illustrations associated with each article (1)
Repos -- This folder contains all the processed articles and so on, with a copy of both illustrations and the notes (content in this folder is overwritten as i update my notes in Notes folder.

(1) the txt file has a specific format
title (of the file, currently I am calling them 1,2,3,4...etc)
journal/place of publication
[actual notes for the file]

# explanation (where # is the number of the illustration)

illustrations_list (list of illustrations that are associated with these notes, if i've made any of my own illustrations then i reference them by using
#a_illus_# where # is the number of the illustration and #a is the number of the article the illsutration is associated with

external references (I use this, if for some reason i feel that there is a need to include a reference to either other notes or perhaps my compilations of keyword tables in my excel documents (basically a list of keyareas that articles cover, I use it to build an initial impression on where to focus my work on in the beginning) or if i want to reference other articles that for some reason needs to be mentioned)

I've yet to complete my parser / editor for these files but I hope to have that done by summer's end - so i can actively start using it to process my articles, instead of by hand (although there is a lot of be said of the manual method)


Any reference manager (e.g. Endnote, Refworks) will do the job though just be careful you can still have access to it if you change computers if you are using one through the uni. I've just found out that some places will not install it onto personal computers which is a pain if you have all your papers sorted into folders and linked to your software! It's a great way to sort out refs but if you don't have it for whatever reason you will be lost!

I also have the problem of papers covering more than one topic as my are sorted by topic but I put it in the different folders they apply to or have a different folders for the multi-topics if convenient!


The problem with reference managers, are all the same - the content is kept in proprietary formats, and I can only use that if i use the actual program. There hardly any software that will allow me to manage notes and references without subjugating me to some random format that I can expect to go belly up at any moment.

End result, I have decided to create my own that uses plain text files.

But thanks for your input :-)


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