Going Paperless

By Kareem Carr

As last Wednesday was Earth day, I wanted to have an environmentally friendly theme this week. However, I also wanted to elaborate on implementing certain aspects of my one hundred paper strategy. So, I thought I could say something about going paperless.

Because I think it’s good to be specific and because I only know how to do this in Windows Vista, that’s what I’m going to focus on. The important thing to mention is that all the suggestions for software that I am making are free or have a free version. I hope commenters will give some advice on adapting to other operating systems that they use. I think there are five important aspects to having an electronic document managing system:

1. A way to convert all your documents to your chosen file format.

I prefer pdf files but you should consider whatever format works for you. The unformity helps because it means that you only have to think about using a few programs to manage your library. I favor installing a print drivers such as doPDF and Print2PDF. After installation, an option to print as a pdf appears as if it were a regular new printer.

I also like to scan papers for which which I have a physical copy.

2. A way to sort and organize your documents

I use a simple folder system. I have a folder for each topic. In each topic folder, I have subtopic folders. In Windows, you can have a navigation pane so it’s easy to see the whole hierarchy at one glance.

By the way, if you have Adobe Reader installed, the icons for each pdf file become images for the first page of the pdf. If you keep your icons large, this gives something of the browsing feel that you get with physical pieces of paper. You can get a sense of what the documents are and where they are without having to read the file names.

3. An easy way to access your documents.

You can use Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader. While the former is more popular, some users report that the latter is faster.

In Windows, you can set a preview pane in Windows Explorer and use either the previewer that comes when you install Adobe Reader or a special one made for Foxit.

My layout is the standard Windows Explorer which I use as a browsing window. I have a hierarchy of files on the left, (in the navigation pane); a list of thumbnails of files for the particular directory that I am browsing in the middle, (in the main window); and an embedded pdf reader on the right that allows me to look at a document page by page without having to open another window, (in the preview pane). This means I can look at my documents at all levels simultaneously.

4. An easy way to manipulate your documents by merging or splitting them.

One solution is PDFMERGE.

5. A way to backup your library

This is an optional aspect to the system. But after a particularly disastrous experience, it is one that I highly recommend. If you are going to keep everything on your computer, it’s a good idea to address the possibility of an equipment failure.

I can vouch for the efficacy of Syncback. However, there are plenty to pick from.

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7 Responses to Going Paperless

  1. Derek says:

    Here’s one more tip: You can have Adobe Reader search for terms not just within a single PDF document but also within a whole folder full of PDFs. I’ve found this really useful for tracking down relevant articles in my electronic files.

  2. bjorn says:

    5. Get an ebook reader.

    i have an eslick from foxit. great device.

  3. javier says:

    I tries point 2 in a similar way to the one you suggest for keeping track of everything. Didn´t work.
    Then I found about projects like Papers (just for Mac) and Mendeley (multiplattform, stil in Beta). Using one of these programs, you can search inside all your pdf’s at the same time, grab metadata associated to the papers, and export it as a Bibtex file ready just to paste in your documents.

  4. Kareem Carr says:

    Thanks to everyone for all the interesting comments so far. I downloaded and installed Mendeley. It seems to have some very good features.

  5. Kareem Carr says:

    I have been experimenting with Mendeley and I have to say that I am very impressed with the automated extraction of citations. Although not perfect, it works well. In my test examples, a few of the citations had small imperfections but otherwise it worked magnificently. However, I found that there was a need to use Mendeley in combination with something like EndNote.

    I think this program would not be good for managing all my pdf’s (a few thousand) and which include many documents that aren’t journal articles, but it’s certainly a program I would use in the future.

  6. Tim at Home Document Manager says:

    Home Document Manager has a slightly different focus, it’s aimed at general home users. But it can scan, OCR and create searchable PDFs.

  7. javier says:

    I have to admit that for real life work I keep using Papers myself, since it is a way more mature tool. But hey, Mendeley is still beta, and certainly shows good potential. And moreover it’s free! If you see any bug or annoying behaviour, or have any suggestions, just tell the developers, they are really friendly and helpful!

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