Reference Management System

Problem Statement: I have no way of keeping track of ideas from one document and building it into a larger research idea(s)

The scenario: I am currently a Master’s of Information student at the iSchool (Factuly of Information) at the U of T.

There are really 2 scenarios at play here that are linked, but have yet to be “linked” in the software world.

Like any student, I have to take courses. These courses typically require multiple readings, which have almost all been available in PDF form. These readings are meant to build a body of knowledge to make you a master in your course. PRESUMABLY, these readings should be relevant material to at some time reference in a paper. I also am expected to write essays that will include other papers related to the topics that I could use to build a body of knowledge to create a research interest and write a thesis, which again, presumably, will be built off the knowledge I have gained

When I am reading these papers, I need to take notes about the points that I find relevant to a) the topic of the course lecture, but b) to the papers that I have to write for the class and c) information that may be helpful later on. With my recent purchase of an iPad I am looking to do this all my reading, annotating, categorizing, and everything else with the iPad.

When I am writing papers, I do it on my PC, where I need to be able to quickly access my annotations, so I know what I am referencing, and then add in the proper citation.

The problem is that while I have good programs for both building my references and annotating the PDFs on iPad, they are not linked, so the data is kept separate for each. They are both useless when I am writing the paper because I have no way of finding the appropriate notes to link to my paper.

Workflow: When writing a paper these are the steps I take:
Assuming I have a bit of structure to my paper

  1. lit search
  2. review the abstract
  3. save the pdfs to my Drop Box
  4. read the full text
  5. highlight important points
  6. copy and paste the points into my word doc under the right heading
  7. insert point into paper in right spot

After this point, it is likely I have no idea where the copied text came form in the PDF, and if I wanted to reference this point again for another paper, I’m going to have to go back to the article, review all the annotations and pull it up again if I ever needed it.

Existing Products I use:

  • Mendeley:Described as “Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network that can help you organize your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest research.”I feel this gets my about 80% of the way there. Right now the biggest hurdle is annotating PDF’s is kinda annoying. It’s a great way to manage all my references and build a proper body of knowledge because I can create folders, tag, and do it all in the cloud, so I have access any where, but frankly the annotation system stinks. Plus, their iOS app is crap.
  • iAnnotate PDF:(Full disclosure – this is built by one of my Lecturer’s, and he is a great guy) This is a GREAT program for annotating PDFs on the iPad. I frankly never want to have to go back to using another way of annotating PDFs. A few issues though. It is an iOS app only, as far as I can tell, so I can’t manage the document metadata and the references in a way that I find helpful. They do things similar to Mendeley where I can use my drop box forums, and I can create tags, but the tags are kept within the iOS apps, so when I’m writing my app none of the meta data I need or annotations have been carried over. I tried using the merge PDF task, but it doesn’t produce the results I want.
  • RefWorks,EndNote: I refuse to even talk about these systems.

What I would like to see happen? Mendeley build as good an app as iAnnotate PDF so I can annotate the PDF within my reference management software on the iPad. This allows me to create a way to organize my annotations so that I know how I can pull out an important point from a paper and utilize it (or the core concept) within another paper that is on a related theme. For example, I recently wrote a paper on gamers and looked at the payment rate per user on Android versus iOS. It was a paper relevant to games at the time, but it was useful when I was writing business proposal and I needed to estimate how much return we could expect from our Android users.

So, how the new IS would improve things is that by using Mendeley alone, I have to do everything on either my Mac of PC, which isn’t the end of the world, but it doesn’t have the mobility and convenience of the iPad, which iAnnotate does so well. However, neither allows me to organize provide meta data about my annotations, only about the paper. That’s the one extra layer I’d add on top. It’s META meta data!

That’s it.