Secret Weapons to Keeping Your Research Articles Organized

By Mariam Melkumyan

As graduate students, we have access to millions of papers through websites like PubMed and Web of Science. All the information, while extremely useful, can become very overwhelming. Therefore, it is essential to have resources that will help organize the numerous articles we need and also find papers that are relevant to our research. In this article I share some of the resources I have found useful in my academic career.

Twitter logo

The first nontraditional resource for finding papers and other resources is academic Twitter. On Twitter (for more information on the advantages of Twitter for academics, check out Raquel Buj’s article “Just setting up my twtrr”) you can follow labs and scientists in your field or in your field of interest, and find their newest papers, then network with them through comments or direct messages. Another important aspect of academic Twitter are the hashtags #AcademicTwitter, #PhDChat, #AcademicChatter, #PhDVoice and others. Using these keywords, you can find many resources and ask questions to the academic community. For example, questions relating to paper organization techniques have been asked multiple times in the academic twitter space. Through these threads, I found new resources including useful templates for citation managers, Excel, Notion and ResearchRabbit.

Citation managers are very useful not only for citing papers, but also for keeping everything in one organized location. There are many great citation managers, however, my favorites are Endnote, Mendeley, and Zotero. The desktop applications for Zotero and Mendeley are completelyfree, while only the online version of Endnote is free. No matter which citation manager you prefer, they all allow you to import articles directly from PubMed or other databases. You can make many different folders for all your different projects and have the summary/abstract of each paper all in one location. Zotero, Mendeley, and Endnote each have a Word plug-in which allows the citations to be directly added into your documents. All three citation managers also allow you to export the bibliography in a myriad of citation styles. This can be useful not only when writing papers for different journals, but also when making a journal database on Excel.

Fig 1. Excel Journal Database example from Stephen McQuilliam’s video

I found out about the extremely useful Excel paper organization template from a 5th year neuroscience PhD student at Penn State College of Medicine, Angela Snyder (@aesnyder14). Angela retweeted Stephen McQuilliam’s, a PhD student at Liverpool John Moores University (@SteMcQuilliam), tweet where he shared a helpful video on how to create the Excel journal database. The remarkable thing about his Excel journal database is that it is very organized, and you can use your citation managers to import the information directly into the Excel (fig. 1). The video explains all the steps very clearly and it only takes about 5 minutes to create. The advantage of using this along with the citation managers is that it allows you to add more details on the key points of the paper, the methods, the results, etc.

Fig. 2. Built in templates and my custom-made Notion template for taking notes

Another wonderful database resource for organizing your scientific literature is Notion. Notion is a useful workspace that can be used for note taking, task management, and also linked databases which are great for organizing all your papers (for more information on using Notion in your PhD, check out Becca Fleeman’s previous LTS article “PhD Project Management Hacking”). Notion has preset templates such as “Class notes”, “Reading List”, and “Thesis Planning”, which allow you to easily organize your notes and to-do list (fig. 2). You can also customize the templates to fit your needs. For example, I created a page template that allows me to gain quick access to basic information about an article (fig 2). A great feature unique to Notion is that you can link to a different paper. For example, if the paper you’re reading cites an article that you have already read, or think will be useful for your research, you can link that paper to your current note page, making it easy to find the link between different papers.

Last but not least, I recently discovered ResearchRabbit on academic Twitter. Research Rabbit is a database that allows you to create different projects and add papers related to your current project. After adding 2 or more papers, the database will work to find other papers related to your project and other papers related to each specific article (fig 3).  You can also directly add papers from PubMed and other databases. I love using ResearchRabbit, because the database helps me see what the newest and most relevant papers are to my project. One aspect of ResearchRabbit that really sets their application apart is that the creators of ResearchRabbit are easily accessible through email and Twitter (@RsrchRabbit) and are very responsive to the needs of their users.

Fig 4. One of my project pages on ResearchRabbit. Shows the papers in My Project, recommended works, and details on the selected article.

Notably, there are hundreds of useful resources that exist for academics and it is simply a matter of finding the applications that work best for you! Looking through academic Twitter and following amazing scientists will help you find useful resources you had not known you needed. While you browse Twitter, make sure to follow Lions Talk Science (@ScienceLions) to get access to useful scientific resources and grad school hacks!

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