What is an effective and efficient system for storing quotes and notes from print books to be retrieved later?

When we read books and articles in electronic format there are easy ways to mark quotes for future reference -- as discussed in the SE posts linked below. Although I read most articles on my computer or a tablet, I still prefer to read books in print format. I am looking for an efficient method for electronically storing quotes and notes from documents I am reading in print.

A brute-force method would be to read books with my computer at my side, and manually transcribe and tag all quotes I like from the book, electronically linked to the book's citation information. I'm hoping there's a better way -- this method might simply be too slow to be feasible.

There are good answers to related questions, but their discussion of quote-tagging and referencing is for electronic documents. The good SE posts out there cover:

i) Why one should use a reference manager: Should I use reference manager software?

ii) Using Sente or LaTeX+JabRef to store electronic quotes, or summaries/notes on books: Reference manager with note-taking/quote-storing capabilities

iii) using TextCite or Citavi for the same purposes: Searching for a quotation manager

1 Answer 1


A few notes before I make a suggestion: I don't usually volunteer answers unless I have a very clear, reliable workflow in mind. In this case, it's a bit more of a "workaround", and as such, it's not perfect. It's not going to work 100% of the time. But I do hope that it saves you a few minutes of typing here and there - it all adds up in the long run.

This is a modification of my workflow in undergrad, where I (regrettably) mostly just skimmed books without taking notes and had to track down quotes based on a very limited set of information.

It requires use of Chrome, a Google account, and a Doc designated for taking notes.

Here's how the workflow breaks down:

  1. Search Google Scholar for your print material of choice.
  2. Use the "search inside" function of Google Books to locate your particular quote. Usually just an uncommon word, phrase, or name will suffice. Be forewarned that the part of the book you're looking for will sometimes be withheld due to copyright.
  3. If the book permits highlighting, you're good to go. Just copy the text you need. Unfortunately, it probably won't, so screen capture is your best workaround. I use Fireshot to take screenshots right within my browser without downloading them locally.
  4. Take a screenshot using your preferred method of the paragraph or part of a paragraph that you need.
  5. Now you have an image to work with. If you have the means, invest in an app that will do the OCR (optical character recognition) for you. That way, if you need to use the quote in your next paper, it's ready for you without having to type it all out yourself. Kami comes recommended and integrates with Google Drive, but I don't have any personal experience with it.
  6. If you don't need OCR at the moment and just want to hold on to the quote for future reference, keep the image. You can opt to save it directly to Google Drive OR you can copy and paste it into a Google Doc from your browser.
  7. Take notes, add context, jot down ideas, add more quotes, etc. directly in your Google Doc.


Use Paperpile to manage your citation information in Google Docs. I started using Paperpile while writing my Masters thesis and become rather enamored with it, despite never having used a reference manager before. Full disclosure: I now work for Paperpile as their Marketing & Community Manager.

From your Google Doc, you can add your own notes and context for the quote along with an in-text citation that links directly to your research library. Paperpile can pull the citation info directly from your Google Scholar search in Step 1. If you don't want to take notes in Google Docs, you can add them directly to the reference itself in the form of a note or attachment. And when you're ready to start writing your next paper, the reference is ready without any additional work on your part.

  • 1
    It appears from your profile that your are affiliated with Paperpile: there's nothing wrong with this, but in such cases it is much better to disclose the affiliation in the answer. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 21:32
  • Noted and edited. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 15:40

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