One year into the research project I have now a nearly exhaustive list of keywords / themes characterising my topic. There are about 100 words, though some of them are so closely related that probably this can be a little bit reduced. However there are nuances, so for what it is worth I would like to keep it for now.

The plan is now to be able to go through all the literature again and tag the keywords when they or a close synonym is mentioned in the text.

I have most of the literature in PDF, though some items are old school books. Now what I would like is eventually to have a search function where I can then search for a keyword and it finds all the text items where I tagged it.

The keyword system of Citavi is close, but not quite. OneNote is great for searching, but pulling in 300 PDF research papers into OneNote is simply no option. What would be best is an annotation Program for PDF, that saves notes in a database format, e.g. saving 'Note Bla bla bla,Keywords abc, file X, page 7, line 20'

Whilst that is wishful thinking, thousands of people have come before me and tried to figure out this personal knowledgebase research thing, so I am a bit surprised there is no software for this, and all the discussions either peddle reference tools (Mendeley, Zotero) or Mindmapping (Xmind, …) which are really addressing different concerns.

I also want to keep the original paper and my notes separate.

Any thoughts / suggestions ?

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    What field are you in? I'm in mathematics, and if you were my student, I would have told you to quit doing this 9 months ago because you're using reading as a way of avoiding doing your own thinking. Commented May 15, 2020 at 20:38
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    I used to be in maths but this is now humanities. To maybe give a bit more context, say you are writing about love, then you might have the key words Storge, Philia, Eros, Agape. You then might even have a few subkeywords. And you have modern words. Love, Romance, Friendship, Kinship, Affection, Sex. And now you are trying to figure out how they are related, and you specifically don't want to think yourself, but first figure out how to characterise what other people associated with it. And so you go to Aristotle, and start looking. Method wise this is close to how Seligman came up with virtues Commented May 15, 2020 at 20:45
  • Your looking for a qualitative data analysis tool (QDA) like MaxQDA. Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 13:48
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    @henning--reinstateMonica that was the trick ! Thanks for the reference ! Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 10:01
  • @basilfawlty glad it helped! Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


You could look into a noSLQ database. ElasticSearch or SOLR come to mind immediately. Most cloud services also offer their own flavors of this(DynamoDB on AWS for example). The solution could be designed to retain the original content, your notes (both searchable also), and your classification system. Most of these systems should have plugins to import various file formats directly.

  • Thanks, that is of course a lot more techy than an Excel sheet or an Access DB, lol. Whilst I do in general like cloud, I think at this point it is majorly overkill hosting a NoSQL DB on my desktop to manage snippets from about 300-400 PDF files. How easy is the GUI, or rather, is there a GUI ? Commented May 16, 2020 at 14:23
  • Its always a trade off between ease of use, a commercial or free/ad supported solution for example, and something you have to work on your self and get "techie", but matches your needs more closely. Most of the solutions I suggested would be on the techie side, and really don't come with a customer friendly GUI. Commented May 16, 2020 at 17:02

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