Organizing Your PDFs

Many researchers find that they have PDFs in too many locations, syncing between devices can be hard, and the original file names are not very helpful.

Here are some guidelines to help improve the situation.

A Savvy Solution

Your Workflow

Your workflow in dealing with the PDF version of journal articles and other documents probably resembles this one:

Identify - Locate already saved or newly discovered PDFs
Organize - Name the file and save the file within your file structure
Read (and annotate) your document
Use/Share - Cite it in a paper or share it with others
Find or relocate

Organizing 101

Touch an item once
A place for everything, and everything in its place
Only file it if you'll come back to it later
Rules and routines help to maintain your system
Do it now if it takes a short amount of time
Don't use a miscellaneous folder, always find a place for your documents within your structure or add a new named folder

Dealing with existing PDFs

Decide how to deal with paper
It's OK to toss documents you won't need again
Consider hiring a helper

File Names

Most generated PDF file names are not useful, you will need to rename them in a consistent schema

Tips for renaming:
Uniqueness
Consistency
A quick scan should tell you about the contents of the file
Names should allow files to display in a useful order

Examples of file names:
SmithM 1998.pdf
AHAgrant Smith 1998.pdf
SmithM 1998 NEJM heart AHAgrant.pdf

File Structure

Choose a scheme that works well for you, simple to complex, multi-level hierarchy
Consider borrowing a scheme from your e-mail or word processing documents
Decide if you can or want to depend on searching to locate files

Storage Options

Pick one place to save all of your related files
Consider what works for long-term back-up of important documents
Is it just for you? Use your hard drive with a separate back-up or a cloud solution
Sharing with others? Consider Google Drive or DropBox, https://www.dropbox.com
One solution might be a citation manager

Other Great Examples

1. File structure and naming only
Identify one place to store your PDFs
Organize your files by developing a file structure and create a scheme for file naming
Rename files and move them to the appropriate folder

2. Zotero + Reading + Storage
http://www.zotero.org/

Zotero manages your citations and offers free options for working in groups
Zotpad - iPad app for Zotero - http://www.zotpad.com/ - $9.99
Use Zotpad with your favorite iPad reader for reading and annotating, one example is Good Reader, http://www.goodiware.com/goodreader.html
For storage, Zotero works best with WebDAV products like Netfiles, less so with DropBox and Google Drive