How do you record details of your reading?


This probably sounds like a really basic question but I'd be really interested to hear other people's ways of doing this. I am coming up to the literature review stage and have a massively growing list of journal articles and books that I have read.

At the moment I make handwritten notes of book chapters, however if the books belong to me I do underline key sections as well. I annotate journal articles and generally end up writing quite a lot in the margins etc. Articles are kept in hanging files according to content. However I'm thinking I should be starting to write summaries of each article so that I have something a bit more permanent - does anyone else do this, or does anyone have an alternative way of keeping their reading up to date?

Thanks, Nx


Well, I started reading about a year ago. All my "readings" are journal articles, mostly printed from online journals, some photocopied. I highlight and make notes on the paper itself, and then summarise the notes at the top of the paper, on the first page. I then enter the paper details into Endnote, and enter the summarised notes in the "research notes" field - that way, I can search for any papers containing a word, phrase, or concept I may have foudn interesting or potentially useful.

After about 70 papers, I began to write, and wrote a rough lit review. Now that I have the framework for it, whenever I read stuff now, I can hang it on those bare bones to give the review more substance.

In terms of keeping them, I have about six sections in my lit review, so I have a box file for each section, and within each one, I try to keep the papers in alphabetical order.

Once I've read a paper, it goes to my "to be written about" pile. Then, once it's added to the lit review (if necessary), it goes to the "for filing" pile, and then to the box files. I also have other magazine holder-type files where I keep papers which I want to read but haven't yet go around to reading, and these are also put under one of the six sections in my lit review, just so that I know roughly where to look for them.

Hope that helps...


You sound really organised 4matt. I have just started my PhD and was wondering the same thing as Natassia. I actually feel a little disorganised at the moment, so would like to get on the right track in terms of record keeping straight away. Did you know what sections you were using from the start, or did they develop as you went along?

Avatar for Batfink27

My system's different to that. I don't have access to a printer at home and hate printing off reams and reams when I'm on campus, so I mostly read PDFs on the screen. I have ring-bound A4 notebooks that I make all my handwritten notes in for my PhD (that way everything I've done is available to me chronologically, I find this helps me keep track of the overall shape of my research). In the front of each notebook I keep a list of all the journal articles/books etc that I have notes for in that notebook to make them easier to find.

When I've got handwritten notes on about half a dozen or so journal articles, I (intend to) write the notes up into a one-page summary for each article which I save on a word document which is my annotated bibliography - admittedly I've fallen a bit behind on the writing up process so probably have about thirty or so articles to write up in this way, but I already have about 140 written up. I find this really helpful for keeping track of which articles I've read and the key points in each - I wrote my first draft lit review from these notes, and have referred to them a lot since then for other papers. But it's quite time-consuming so I'm sure there are more efficient methods out there!

I also use RefWorks as a database of all the journal articles I've come across, whether I've read them or not, sorted into folders according to subject, and can search this by keywords or by author.


I use Mendeley to organise and read all my papers in. I very rarely print anything and rarely make notes by hand any more. It was such a struggle doing my masters dissertation trying to translate my handwriting that I gave up and started typing everything. It seems as though the more educated I become the worse my handwriting gets. I make notes on the papers and highlight them in Mendeley and then write a brief summary in the notes section. I have all my papers organised by broad topic areas (most of them) but need to get round to organising them properly. The good thing is though if I want to quickly check something on topic X I can do a search in Mendeley and it will show all the papers that cover that topic, or I can search by author within my collection. I have a lot of papers waiting to be read as I seem to be very good at downloading things but it seems to take ages to get round to reading them :$ I seem to have amassed over 300 papers and over 100 are still unread, having said that some of the papers that I have read have only been skimmed and I haven't made any notes on them.

I would recommend having summaries of each article even if it's only 2 or 3 lines stating the main points from the paper because it will be quick to refer to when writing the lit review, and then you could always go back through the paper in more detail if necessary.


I too have a chronological notebook and endnote system.

Basically as I read an article I highlight pertinent points on the page.  I take notes of these points in my notepad, as well as thoughts that occur to me as I'm reading. I label these notes in the margin as 'direct quote', 'consideration', 'read further' and so on.

I give all articles keywords which I enter into endnote, and I set up a record card for each item (in case endnote fails me!).  On both I enter the date I first read the item which allows me to cross reference with my notes.

I write up an annotated bibliography in which I note the title, author, keywords and perspective of each paper I've read.  I share this with my supervisors regularly so they can see what I've been reading. I've been a bit lax at updating this lately so thanks for reminding me.

When I wrote the first draft of my lit review, I used my annotated bibliography notes to generate a mind map of my field which formed my section headings.  I then used my keywords to find papers that fit in each section and wrote from there. My notepad notes then were used for direct quotes and linking ideas.  As I've redrafted, I've got less direct quotes and more of my own words.

When I read new papers now, it's easy to see where the ideas fit with my existing writing and reading.


I have giant ( and migrating) piles roughly split into subject matter and importance. I make notes in the margins as I read, and then move onto handwritten notes in a notebook, making sure to note what is a quote or paraphrase, and from where, and what is my own comment about what I read. I tend to write my articles/papers/or at the time PhD chapters in topical chunks--so that I would focus on a certain topic or theme within the overall topic and write on that. Bit by bit I would piece things together, making sure to keep the relevant piece of literature nearby to double check quotations and citations. The end result is a drifting iceberg of paper...:( but...this seems to be the best for me, as I prefer to do a lot of initial drafting and thinking with pen and paper and not my computer.


I too used an EndNote system, typing summaries of articles/chapters/books into the available fields, and using keywords to make searching easier.

My EndNote database really paid off near the end of my 6-year part-time PhD. I had forgotten most of my reading by then, but the EndNote database had a record of all my reading, so I was able to expand my bibliography right at the end accordingly.


Lots of useful replies - thank you!

I use Mendeley as well and think I will have to start reading things on there a bit more, I generally prefer to have paper copies of everything and make handwritten notes but if there are all accessible on my laptop/uni PC that may well end up being easier. I already organise my PDFs on Mendeley according to topic category, think I have about 12 categories at the moment.

I think I'll print out the most important ones still, and write one-page summaries for them as you suggest - will help with my writing style as well.

I also keep a chronological record of my reading in an A4 notebook which is helpful - I also make a note of papers that I have to get in this so I don't forget about anything interesting that I see in a bibliography.

Maybe I am a bit more organised than I previously thought...I just seem to have so many methods of doing things, and wanted to establish a bit more consistency.

Thanks again, and I hope this thread helps others as well. :-)


Another Mendeley user here :)

I import articles into Mendeley and pop them into my "unread" folder. Once I've read an article and written appropriate notes for it (which I do in the "notes" section in Mendeley - I never print articles out) I migrate it to each of the several relevant folders (I treat folders more like tags, so each article goes in several folders). I often skim an article, but that doesn't get it out of the "unread" folder, so there are lots of articles in there that I'm working my way through. Only when I'm sure I've read it well enough and taken good enough notes does it graduate, which is when I "remove from collection" I believe Mendeley calls it.

I really love Mendeley because of the online storage and sync between several computers. It allows me to work from home and not worry about taking my notes with me. Their nifty little web importer is cool too, though slightly too easy. I end up with lots of articles only marginally relevant :P


All I have to say is that it is great that you all have some sort of system. I don't know what I was thinking at the time but i really had no system whatsoever and everything I read was haphazardly highlighted, scribbled on, handwritten notes made and then chucked into a folder. Needless to say writing up has been fun. Just don't be as disorganised as me and it will be fine (sprout)


Snap Slowmo :$