The road to Mendeley

Being a few months into my PhD, I think the biggest shock I've had is dealing with the vast quantities of information that suddenly seem to have appeared in my life. In the last few weeks this reached a crisis point, and I have been making a proper, grown-up effort to get everything in order before I drown in a bibliographic swamp.

One piece of software that has intrigued me, and which seems to be fairly useful is Mendeley, which describes itself as "i-tunes for research papers". Given how irritated I got with i-tunes, I suspect this doesn't do it justice (plus you don't need to give Apple your credit card details to get anything done).

Mendeley is currently in beta, and so is a little bit buggy. It wants to be a bibliographic tool, but I'm not using it for this, at least not until it gets slicker. What it does do incredibly well is to centralise pdf documents and allow you to order, search and annotate them. Plus its free!

Previously, all the papers I was merrily downloading were ending up in a series of folders, somewhere in the depths of my laptop. The more I added, the scarier and less accessible they got, and the more helpless I felt. With Mendeley, I have organised them into folders, and some papers are in a number of different folders, because they cross subjects.

Mendeley works by "watching" particular folders, and then bringing new papers up when you open it. Again, this is a little bit buggy at the moment, but better than the alternatives (madness, depression, alcoholism...). The main irritation is that it sometimes ends up bringing multiple copies, but this is fairly quick to tidy up.

Here are some screen shots:

Here is the list of all my papers. You can also see the folders I've created down the left hand side, and the info on each paper on the right, which can also be edited, or checked via google scholar (which I also love).

Once you've opened a paper, you can highlight and annotate it...

You can also search for key words in all your papers...

It doesn't currently work for anything other than pdfs, but what I have done is turn some of my typed-up notes into pdfs, and then added them too.

All of this does take a bit of time to set up, but seems to be worth it once it's done. Given that I've only been using it for a few weeks, I would be really interested to know if anyone has had any good or bad experiences of it themselves.

And if you're currently wading through a mire of academic papers, you could try taking the road to Mendeley (now I have Nellie the Elephant in my head... "trump, trump, trump!").


Jenny said…
I've not used it, but it looks good...any more use than refworks? Blinking thing.
Elee said…
I don't think it's up to much as a bibliographic tool yet, although as it's in beta, this might change. I can show it to you properly if you like. I'm actually using Zotero, and not bothering with Refworks at all. Zotero = pretty, and works with OpenOffice.
Jenny said…
Yeah, I've been using zotero, on and off...I do need to sort that out, really...I don't mind whether you show me - I've got a lot of software, to be honest! But maybe next time we're both in the department!
Ceri said…
I have a fear of software after losing things in the past but thank you for the helpful how to guide... though how I turn my shelf of printed out papers (sorry trees) into anything as useful it is probably too late for anything except madness and alcoholism...
Mr. Gunn said…
Hi everybody! Just wanted to drop in to introduce myself as the academic community liaison for Mendeley.

I'm a little concerned that Elee seems to have had some issues with generating a bibliography, which Mendeley should certainly handle pretty well. Can you give me some more information on what went wrong and why? I'd love to get things sorted out for you, so feel free to contact me via email or twitter @mrgunn
Elee said…
Hello Mr Gunn!

I haven't carried out an in-depth exploration of Mendeley as a bibliographic tool. When I looked at it, it seemed that Zotero did more of what I needed.

What would be really great is if there could be Mendeley training at the university (of Leicester). I'm sure there is lots on your website, but I learn better from people.

Thanks for responding!
Summer said…
If you're using a Mac, you could also try the excellent Papers: Really helped me get my literature under control!
Mr. Gunn said…
Elee - I'll be sure to let you know when the next training webinar is coming up (or we can schedule one if you can round up a few more people), in the meantime there are quite a few people at Leicester who can probably help.
Gudmundur Thorisson, Jo Badge, and others are names I recognize in a quick search on Mendeley.
Amy said…
Accidentally deleted:

SciPlore MindMapping has left a new comment:

if you like mendeley our software "sciplore mindmapping" might be interesting for you. sciplore mindmapping is a mind mapping application that allows you to integrate your pdfs and references with mind maps. the big advantage of this approach is that you do not only have a list of your PDFs but a mind map in which you can add additional information and arrange PDFs more flexible. And in case you really like Mendeley, you even can use Mendeley in addition to SciPlore MindMapping.

For a short demonstration of sciplore mindmapping see

To try the software (open source, Java):

and to read about how to write a phd thesis (or academic papers in general) with sciplore mindmapping see

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