Saturday, November 17, 2007

What was the paper about that thing I read last year?

As a graduate student, I often find myself reading papers, books, etc. Unfortunately, I have also found myself trying to remember in what paper I read a particular fact, where I saved the paper (in either paper or electronic form), or why/when/if I even read a specific paper that's lying on my desk.

At first I took notes in my paper notebook, which I highly do NOT recommend. Not only is it harder to find the notes later, it's harder to read part of a paper and then come back. It's unlikely that the estimate you make about how much more paper you need will actually be correct. It also doesn't help in the slightest toward keeping the papers you've read organized.

After that failure I started keeping notes on the computer. I tried Word and OneNote, and found that OneNote was relatively good for organizing. I could organize papers based on their topic by tab, and by paper via pages. This way worked fine for a little while, but then it became a bit cumbersome especially as I started using multiple computers. It also was not ideal as it didn't allow for a paper to fit into more than one category, nor did it allow for viewing a simple list of previously read papers.

I had heard of citation managers that other students were using on their computers, but many had complaints about them. It still would not solve the problem of multiple computers, as most were still just regular computer programs.

A few months ago I was talking with another grad student about how I needed to find a good citation manager, and luck would have it that he had just started using one that he loved. This particular citation manager is called Aigaion and is web based, coded in PHP. Since I already have a web domain that allows PHP, setting it up was a snap. I can create nested topics, assign any topics to a particular paper, write comments about a paper, and upload the pdf file or link to it. Searching is simple, and I can also export to BibTeX if I need a list of papers for LaTeX.

Unfortunately I still haven't finished putting all of my previously read papers in the system. However, I'm still impressed with how instantly organized I am just by uploading papers and categorizing them. I highly recommend Aigaion if you are looking for a way to organize papers, books, etc. I'm sure there are other similar programs, but so far I have only used this one and have used it successfully.

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