I am about to start a research career in physics. I am trying to read plenty of research papers. Is/are there a smart way/ways (a software or something else) to keep track of the papers I have already read, partially read, wish to read, my favourites and so on? I am sorry to ask such a dumb question. I am being thoroughly overwhelmed by the unmanagable research literature that exists in my field of interest. Do researchers maintain a 'research diary' like stuff?

  • Are you looking for a repository to store and organize research papers, a search engine to find papers about some topic, a way to get alerts about new publications of interest, or some way to collect and organize reading notes? For each of these, have you looked for suggestions on this site? What did you find and what remains unanswered for you? Jul 29, 2020 at 17:41
  • Good question. However, due to my myriad of interests, it has become impossible to track research papers. There is no way one can track 100+ papers per day. Reading just abstracts will leave too little time to do actual research. Jul 29, 2020 at 21:29

3 Answers 3


I would suggest:

  1. Using Mendeley - both their Web Importer and the software, it really helps to arrange the papers in different folders and your notes while reading them.
  2. Keep a daily research journal where you can note down keywords and even author names whose other papers might be of interest to you. This especially helps at the beginning of a PhD.
  3. If you print a hardcopy of the papers, note down the date of printing in the front page(eg. near the title of the paper). That helps to keep track of your reading speed. You can also see later how the topic/s varied over time for the papers you printed.

There might be numerous other methods of keeping track of research literature, do find a combination which works best for you. There's no one way of doing it.

  • "Keep a daily research journal" Does that mean maintaining a research diary? Thanks. Jul 31, 2020 at 3:17
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    @mithusengupta123 I am not sure what do you mean by a research diary, what I meant is a place to jot down the important takeaways from a day's literature search. Jul 31, 2020 at 8:23

Here are two suggestions, but only the first relates to your question.

A simple way to keep track of things is with something as simple as a word processing document, though you can also use spreadsheets or databases in the same way. Simply enter the title and author(s) of the things you read along with a bunch of keywords that are meaningful to you and will let you find documents by keyword. You can also write your own short abstract of each paper, which will help keep the information in your head, not just in the document. This document will let you find them easily in the future. This should be an electronic document so that you can easily search it for keywords and such. Don't forget to do backups, of course.

Entries in this list should be numbered as well. And each paper can have a list of the numbers of other, related, papers. (also see below)

But, the other idea is to keep a research diary that has your own ideas for future papers or research threads that you don't have time for at the moment. Often when working on something and idea will come to you that you might want to work on later. Enter the idea in the diary along with the date and the numbers of any papers (from the list above) that seem to relate to the idea.

If you keep a research diary, keep different ideas on different pages so that you can add to it in the future. Review the diary periodically - especially when you want a new project.

If you are doing patentable work then the research diary should be bound (not loose leaf) hard copy and each page dated. You also want to have the ideas witnessed by someone who signs and dates your pages. This diary can provide evidence of "first use". It is (or was) typical practice at IBM Research for example.

  • As for patents, with the US now on first-to-file with the rest of the world, evidence for first-to-invent is no longer needed.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 29, 2020 at 19:26
  • The first idea can probably be better executed, in terms of organizational effort, with a reference manager tool like Zotero.
    – GoodDeeds
    Jul 29, 2020 at 22:49

My recommendation for a free option would be Zotero over Mendeley. Neither of them is as easy to customise in terms of output options as Endnote, but people have started to tell me lately that Mendeley is becoming increasingly focused on making it easier to integrate with Elsevier’s databases, at the cost of usability with other databases.

Otherwise, check with your institution. Many universities these days have bulk subscriptions to programs like Nvivo or Atlas.ti

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