Paperless research and trying to go digital

When I research I create lots of paper. Sticky notes, printed journal articles, photocopies and other random scraps with my notes and scribbles. I like to call it ‘creative clutter’. It works for me, or rather it did work for me.

Since I started to do more research, I’ve amassed more paper, and no matter how I organise it, finding that research paper I read a few months ago or an idea I had at 3am is proving more and more difficult.

Inspired by this post, I’ve recently started to embrace the use of software, to help organise my academic life and although I’m still experimenting with different products, here’s what I’m using at the moment:


Blogging –
A free blogging engine to document my thoughts and ideas. This is public. The blog is new.

Ideas and notes – Evernote
I’m still getting to grips with Evernote, sometimes I take a photo or make an audio note from my iPhone. One of the nice features of Evernote, is that it will automatically OCR any text you scan, making it super easy to search – it even understands some of my handwriting.

References – Zotero
A free Mac, Windows, Linux, Web based reference/citation manager. Popular alternatives include EndNote, Mendeley, Refworks. I’ve not tried these yet, but Zotero is free and well supported.

Word processor – Microsoft Word
Since I work on a Windows PC in the office and a Mac at home, I needed a word processor that would be compatible. Microsoft Word seems to do the trick, although I’ve not experimented with the Zotero plug-in yet.

Cloud based storage – DropBox
I have a free 2GB dropbox account which I’m using to store research documents between the office and home. I’ve tried Skydrive, Box and Google Drive – dropbox seems to be the most reliable and its fast.

Browser – Chrome
I use Google Chrome for most things. Its fast and I can sync bookmarks between home and the office. Its got some great extensions and Zotero seems to work nicely with it.


Dell Windows 7 PC
I use a Windows 7 PC at work. I’ve got the advantage of a big monitor, but other than that, its just a standard Windows desktop.

MacBook – OSX
I use an Apple Macbook Pro for most things at home. I’ve upgraded the RAM and HD to an SSD which makes it quieter, more energy efficient and is super fast too. With VMWare Fusion I can run Windows at the same time, although I rarely need to hop into Windows when I’m researching and writing.

iPhone 4
My smartphone is getting a little old by todays standards, but it still does everything I need it to do. I’ve got access to Evernote, Dropbox and WordPress. I often use the camera to take photos of posters, book covers and business cards. I then try to organise these on the Mac once a week.

iPad mini 
In an attempt to reduce the amount of paper I’m using, I’ve started to read PDFs using my iPad. Its not the same as paper, and initially I found it a little frustrating not being able to scribble or annotate documents with a pen. I’m persevering.  The ability to add notes and highlight areas with different colours digitally maybe useful when I’m trying to find something in the future.

So thats what I’m using at the moment. I spent a few hours yesterday downloading papers I’d marked in Zotero, to read on my iPad. I’ll still make the odd note on paper, but I’m trying to use just one book for notes – which will be scanned into Evernote. Perhaps I’ll do this every week?