Why Papers is Freaking Awesome

I wish this program had existed earlier in my college career, and that I had known about it earlier.  Papers, by Mekentosj, is pretty freaking awesome.  I used to have to carry around a stack of photocopied research articles.  I don’t remember what my library copy budget was at the University of Houston, but I spent a lot.  Kids today have it easy, they can go online and download electronic copies.  In my day we had to walk uphill in the snow to find a journal (if the college subscribed to it) and wait your turn at the photocopier, print it, staple it, and then you had to carry around a stack in your backpack.  If you want to share with someone, you had to make more copies.

Even after discovering the pure joy that is Papers I have still worked with people who do it the old way.  Offices filled with filing cabinets and paper printouts floating around, hand-scribbled notes in the margins, and if you wanted to compile this information into your report… well you had to sit down and start transcribing.  And what if you are out someplace and you wanted to read a journal?  Or perhaps a journal from a year earlier?  Who wants to carry all this around?

Here is a screenshot of Papers.  Like iTunes you can categorize your files, create folders of collections and set up smart folders that update automatically.

With earlier versions you had to type in the metadata by hand, but now many PDFs downloaded from research sites already have the metadata attached.  If you enter a scanned PDF you can use the ‘match’ button to search the web for the metadata.

In the search bar you can enter a search term and Papers will use OCR to search the documents for the term and highlight it within the document for you.  Here I searched for ‘coffee’.

You can search by keyword, title, author, or all… and you can string together more than one word.  Using folders and collections and word combinations, you can find what you are looking for pretty easily.  Here I looked for articles that dealt with PTSD, veterans, domestic violence, and anger, giving me 32 articles in my collection.

You can use whatever PDF program you wish to read articles outside of Papers.  I used to have Apple’s Preview app as my PDF viewer.  However I have switched back to using the Papers viewer.  What I do is read the article in Fullscreen mode, which is really nice on my large iMac.  I also run a transparent Notes pane, which I can resize and move around wherever I’d like.  Here is an example:

I will admit that at first I did not really use the notes portion.  I was stuck in old habits of writing things in the margins and highlighting.  But listening to MPU episode 100 I heard a gentleman talk about his workflow and using Notes view.  Here is the view with Notes on the side:

This allows you to quickly scan both notes and highlights of an article in the box on the right without having to open the document and scroll through multiple pages.  But this isn’t the cool part.  You can click on ‘export’ and export all the notes of selected documents as a text file (or other formats).  Just like so:

Here is an exported file with notes and highlights in Byword, a plaintext editor.  As the gentleman said in MPU 100, writing notes of what comes to mind while reading, and exporting this in txt files, quickly gives him several pages of usable text in his writing.

And if you want to make a reference list, select the files you want and select the type of reference (in Preferences menu, mine is set to American Psychological Association), and export in a choice of formats such as Word, txt, PDF, html and others.  Here is a reference list exported into Byword.

That is worth it for me… I really hate looking up the current standard in the latest APA style manual.  But there is more… I put my Papers database into my Dropbox folder and this allows me to use the same database on both my iMac at home and my Macbook Pro laptop wherever I take it.  But many times I don’t carry my laptop, and even if I do it isn’t the easiest thing to just whip out and read an article quickly.  So there is the iPad.  Here is a screenshot of an article open on iPad.

The notes (above) and highlights are synced back and forth between the iPad and the computer.  The text highlighting accuracy on the Papers iPad is only so-so and is far eclipsed by great PDF programs as PDF Pen.  But I want syncing between my devices, so I’m happy to stick with the slightly limited highlighting capabilities on the iPad version of Papers.  Both iOS devices sync with the computer, but to do so you must do it over a WiFi connection.  Here is the iPhone version showing the note I wrote on the iMac.


If I had looked up the metadata, or did online match, there’d be data in the Abstract portion.  You can pinch to zoom and read the document on the iPhone.  But what I get more use out of is simply looking at the Notes view as I might be mulling over a problem and need some reminders of past thoughts with an article instead of reading one fresh.

There is another great feature.  How many times have I worked with people who had a good article concerning something we were working on and they print off a copy to give me?  Loads.  And we’re back to the earlier drawbacks of using paper.  Here is a picture of a Livfe collection.  This is a collection of 50 or less articles that you put in your Livfe profile.  You can invite coworkers, also running Papers, to join the collection.  Within this online collaboration you can make comments on documents and share with each other.  If I find a good article, I just add it to the collection and when a colleague cranks up the Papers program on zer computer, there it is.


Papers is freaking awesome and it does a lot more.  You can add attachments to files, for example if you read a study online and it has a test for depression attached to it, you can import that file as part of the PDF.  If you go to a conference and see a good presentation, you can import the PowerPoint, and so on.




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