This short article will share my tech toolkit and give a high-level overview of how I manage academic reading materials, notes and references.
I also use Microsoft Word for writing assignments - this is not by choice; the university requires it.
Zotero is a free tool that helps you collect, organise, annotate, highlight and cite research papers. There is also a Zotero app, which suits my workflow well, as I tend to read, highlight and annotate papers on my iPad using my Apple Pencil.
Here's a screenshot of my Zotero library to give you a sense of the layout:
Here's a zoomed-in screenshot of my simple folder structure and tagging system:
If you only need a tool for generating bibliographies, I recommend ZoteroBib.
I use Obsidian for taking notes. Below you will see two screenshots of my Obsidian sidebar showing my folder structure.
This screenshot shows my master's 'project' sub-folder, which contains an outline for my dissertation along with any other notes that are not linked to one specific research paper:
These screenshots show the location of notes I have made on research papers (they are in a Zotero-specific 'Capture' sub-folder that splits into different types of literature e.g. conceptual, topic etc.):
Notes related to specific research papers are created using the Obsidian Citations community plugin. The video below explains how I set up this clever Zotero/Obsidian integration:
Here is the template I use (note that I will likely move the metadata into YAML in the future):
This is how I process a paper:
- Bring the paper into Zotero.
- Tag the paper in Zotero (e.g. currently reading plus topic tags).
- Create a template-based literature note in Obsidian and place it in the relevant subfolder (e.g. conceptual literature).
- Read, highlight and annotate the paper in Zotero, updating the tags as needed.
- Make notes in addition to highlights and annotations in the relevant literature note in Obsidian.
- Generate a note in Zotero (see screenshot below) that includes highlights and annotations - copy these to Obsidian.
Choose a few tools that do what they do well and save you time - quality over quantity. Your toolkit should support and enhance your study.