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How To Keep Track of All the Papers You’re Reading While Working from Home

Hello people! This morning I shared some information on how I organize journal articles in an Excel spreadsheet to make them easier to find later. The tweet absolutely blew up (by my standards), so I decided to write up a post that expands on some of these ideas. 

1. Keep it Simple. Make a new file (or sheet) every time you start a new project, and also every time you start a new paper. The bulkier the spreadsheet gets, the harder it will be for you to find all those carefully organized thoughts. I have found that it saves me the most time to just start a new file for every manuscript, because then you can name each file accordingly. However, it can also be really useful to have one file per project and each individual manuscript as a separate sheet. This also helps if you want to re-use a specific citation because you can easily figure out where it is saved!

2. Header Lines. These are really important! It took me ~3 years (total guess) to figure out what the most useful headers were. Also, make sure you freeze that row! I found that it was useful to have individual columns for both the first author and the corresponding author. I realized that the corresponding author made a huge difference in figuring out what research came from the same groups. This also has an added bonus of helping you learn who the big players in your field are! The other column that I find most helpful is keeping track of whether or not you have cited this article in a particular paper or project. I think this is useful because sometimes even the most interesting of papers just doesn’t fit once you write it all out. 

3. Journal Abbreviation. This column was a direct result of EndNote frustration. There is always at least one incorrect citation that you will catch and one that you will not. Most often, I have found it comes from the journal abbreviation. Knowing the proper abbreviation can save you some time. Also, learning the common words and their abbreviations can save you some time. Also, if you ever need to type out a quick citation to share in an email or chat, this is really useful.

4. DOI. Again with the sharing! I have learned the hard way and the stubborn way that sharing the DOI is the fastest way to find an article someone recommends, unless you have the URL. However, I have also recently learned that some subscriptions change the URL, so you may still be creating work for some people without knowing it!

5. Adapt. This was neither my first nor my second draft of this spreadsheet. Paying attention to what works and what doesn’t for you specifically is going to be important. When I first started out, I made the columns similarly to my citation manager. Logically,  if the citation manager was working for me, then I didn’t really need to make the spreadsheet, did I? That’s true, but also not the point. The point is that you have to start somewhere, and you don’t need to finish where you started. 

Do you have any other tips and tricks on managing articles? Let’s share with each other and get through this journey together!

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