Remebering what you've read


Hi everyone,

I've only been going for 3-4 months, and currently have about 70 papers in my Endnote library. What I want to know is, how does anyone remember what they've read, and where? For example, one of my supervisors has a library of around 2,000 papers. How on earth does he remember where he read something which he writes in one of his papers, when I have great difficulty remembering the entire content of three or four papers, let alone 2,000!

Can anyone offer any pointers?




Hey Matt! I suspect that the key to this is not so much remembering the content of the papers, but knowing where to find them when you forget what's in them! Usually if I think a paper is going to be useful for me, I fill in a summary sheet and staple it to the front of the paper. Basically it just lists the main points of the paper, e.g. who the participants were, which measures were used, what the results were and additional relevant information. Of course, sometimes I simply don't have time to do this for every paper, so I tend to shove them in box files according to one box file for papers included in my systematic review, one file for papers to do with relevant interventions, one for papers covering the theoretical perspectives etc. I usually manage to find what I'm looking for and refresh my mind, although sometimes I have to root in a few files to put my hand on it. Not perfect, but it helps. I suppose as you become more familiar with your topic and go to conferences and network etc you will become more familiar with researchers' names and studies too, and also when you start writing papers yourself. I'll be interested to see other people's tactics! KB


I keep summary details for each paper/book in EndNote (there are quite a few appropriate fields that you can use to fill in anything you like there). Then I can search for keywords, or topics that might be relevant, and it remembers a paper I will have totally forgotten about.

I have rather a big problem with this, due to brain damage from neurological illness. Luckily EndNote remembers things I forget!


For the record the extra details I add in EndNote for my own benefit are in the Keywords, Notes, and Call Number fields.

Keywords has a list of keywords typed into it e.g. "ray tracing, planetary surface simulation" etc.

This means I can search for any of those words (say 'ray tracing') in Keywords only, or across all fields. And it will find this article and others that match the search, even if the searched-for word isn't in the title.

Then in Notes I put a very brief summary of the article/paper/book, to recall what it was about and the keypoints of relevance to me. So just a couple of sentences usually, though sometimes I write an awful lot more than that.

If I can find a detailed abstract I will put that into Abstract as well, but I don't usually have one of those, in my field. I'm more likely to make up my own notes in the Notes field.

The third field I use to add information is Call Number, where I record if I have a copy of the article e.g. a photocopy, or my own book, or a PDF file (rare for humanities!), or whatever. Basically so I can track it down again easily if I want to read it again. Also if it's in a library and I don't have a copy I might record the full library reference so I can find it easily again without rechecking the catalogue.

I don't use EndNote to automatically generate references. It doesn't work so well in my discipline, and the departmental style was hard to replicate reliably in EndNote, so in the end I just resorted to typing up footnote references manually. But EndNote is wonderful as a database of things I've read, and subsequently forgot.

Avatar for Batfink27

Hi Matt

I'm at a very similar stage to you (started my PhD in October) and I've been puzzling over the same thing.

My university supports RefWorks rather than EndNote but my impression is that they're very similar. I use RefWorks as a database of all the references I've found and have something like 250 references in there at the moment (although I've only read a fraction of those so far). I use the folders system in RefWorks to sort the references into different topics (some papers are listed in 3 or 4 or 5 folders) so I can find them by general topic.

When I'm reading I write notes in spiral-bound notebooks, and for any paper that I think I might possibly one day want to come back to I then write a summary in a Word document, one page per paper sorted alphabetically by primary author, listing the key points in the paper, where the paper is saved, when I read it and which notebook my notes are in. It's a bit time consuming so I don't know how religiously I'll keep this up, but I'm finding that the process of reading and then a week-ish later coming back and summarising my notes is helping me to identify what the key points are, and spot interesting connections I might otherwise have missed, and I think it's helping me to develop a feeling for the literature in my area. With some papers it's literally just a few lines - the paper's mostly not relevant but this method of calculating data is interesting, or the author's summary of another paper I've read puts a different slant on it, that sort of thing. With other papers it's obvious it's an important text so I do a more detailed summary.

Actually, I'd be really interested to know whether anyone else does anything like this, or if it really will turn out to be too time consuming to keep up. I'm always feeling anxious that I'm not reading enough, or I'm missing out important areas in the literature, so I'll be really interested to read what other people have to say about this!

best wishes



4Matt - I use Endnote meself and basically a few practises
1. Update ALL information when downloading the document. For example if downloading from Google Scholar, it does not update the abstracts. Also, download the PDF file and link it to the record.
2. Once you have read the document, update the Notes section then and there - DO NOT WAIT cos something will come up tomorrow and this small action will get missed.
3. Use other fields - Too lazy to read every other post, but what I did was take a reference type that I knew I wasn't going to be using much and changed the name of the three fields to "General Area", "Importance" and "Status" - all three pretty self explanatory! You can do this simply enough by editing the Output style.
4. Create a style within Output Styles that allows you to print the records after your search within a specific area using the Find functionality. If that is done, you can copy and paste all of the records (Edit - Select All - Copy Formatted ... Go to Word - Copy - Paste ... then modify to size).
5. If all of the above makes no sense, I can if needed send on a specific style that I use for the purposes of point 4. But what I would recommend you doing is find out FAST when the next EndNote course is being run in your college (most run some sort of one).

On a non- End-note ... You will remember maybe 5-10 papers well, 20 or so at a glance, but it is not humanly possible to remember 2,000 - its just how you remember how you found them. If using any ref. software, I will just say two main things
a. Update all records as you go along - DO NOT leave until later
b. Backup all records (a simple copying of the relevant folder to a USB stick should do). This also allows for the use of EndNote on your home laptop/PC.
If you need any help on the above, drop a Private Message - I might take a bit of time to get back to ya, but I will.

Avatar for sneaks

I never read without writing - so whenever I read its because I am writing a few pages on the topic. THerefore I don't really need to remember the important points - because i have already written about them. If I do read something I think relates to other areas, then I have microsoft one note open - I whack a little note in (or take a screen print) of the important info. So I have a page in one-note for each area in my lit review, for my method and then for each chapter, and discussion. That way, all those little lightbulb moments don't get lost!


Thanks for all the replies.

So far, when I've read a paper, I usually (in addition to annotating it as I go along, and highlighting) write my own little summary at the top. This can be one or two sentences, or maybe more, and is either the key findings of the research, or the most important points relevant to me if the paper is a review article. I was wondering if Endnote has provision to record notes like this, and from what I've read above, it does. Where do I find this though?

Avatar for sneaks

======= Date Modified 21 Jan 2010 10:42:19 =======
endnote usually has a few fields that are left empty - I think there are 'comment' fields and 'research note' fields. YOu can also categorise your library. So you have have all the refs in the same library, but mark some of them 'subject x' so you can filter them in searchers, so its easier to find the ones you want on a particular subject.

sorry that's not too clear - you will find this, once you have added the reference, double click to show the whole entry then click in the top right corner to say 'display all fields' and you will see a load of fields that so far have no info in like the ones I mention above.


I download the PDFs of all the journal articles I read. If there's something I can't remember where I read it, I use the Acrobat search feature to search across my PDFs for the idea (they're all in the same folder, so I select that as where it should search.) Also, Google Scholar is quite handy for re-researching things - try to reconstruct the phrase and bung it in.


Does anyone know of a package that does all these things for linux/unix based computers? My uni supports EndNote and I think it's brilliant but I don't have a Mac or Windows machine. I have something that works through a browser but it doesn't keep track of where pdfs are on my machine or allow long notes on the contents.


======= Date Modified 21 Jan 2010 16:53:03 =======
@ Mathkitty:

JabRef! A good reference manager, open-source (i.e. free), with GUI, and especially great if you're using LaTeX! You can link your Pdf's to individual entries, enter abstracts, long general notes, create groups based on keywords, etc. and it works with BibTex (so bibliography/references are automatically generated according to the style you chose). Works with most operating systems, or at least with Linux and Windows.

Downloadable here:


Apple: you are a star! Thanks! It can be especially hard finding one that works well with Bibtex. My article-search software will give me the references in bibtex format but there was always still the problem of organising and keeping notes. Have been looking for new system for ages. Thanks.


Does anyone know how to link pdf's to endnote? So that you could be looking at a reference and then it would automatically open the paper. Is that possible?


Superman: There's an option when creating a reference to attach a file quite near the bottom. You can also right click on an existing reference and go to File Attachments>Attach a new file (there's also the option of opening the file from here.) To open, there's a big file icon on the toolbar - next to Open Link.