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Discover how a PhD student turned to Paperpile to manage the chaos of storing and referencing papers, with the online tool helping them save, sort and access papers with ease.

There are a few staples of PhD life. A laptop. An extension cable. Books. Articles. Coffee. Instant noodles. You get the picture. After using Paperpile for the last six months, I’m adding it to the list.

Before Paperpile, I had never used a reference manager before. Well, I’d tried to, but they always seemed a bit too difficult to get the hang of and I struggled to make them a part of my workflow. The truth is, for the longest time I have done all my references by hand. I used to swear by it – that doing your referencing manually was the only way to ensure it would be done properly. Neatly. I’d spend hours writing them all up: surname, initials, date. Repeating the same laborious process again and again, page after page. Perhaps even worse, I would leave my referencing until after I’d finished.

Now then, is this a chapter in a book or a book? How do you cite a journal article? I’ve spelt the author’s name wrong. It’s been so long since I referenced a website, where’s the style guide? What city was this book published in? Why does it matter what city it was published in? Where on earth is that paper? I can’t find it anywhere… I’ve been looking for hours… did I imagine it?”

For years I relied on folders within folders within folders of papers with obscure titles given by myself in a rush to maintain some sense of order. Sure, it’s gotten me through, but I’ve lost countless hours in the process. That’s when I discovered Paperpile.

Paperpile is an online reference manager that helps you obliterate the chaos of storing and referencing your papers. To say I was converted is an understatement – Paperpile is the first time I’ve used a reference manager and just ‘got it’. They’re also huge supporters of PhD students! Paperpile does a lot more than export citations and help you compile a bibliography. It allows you to download, read, organise, highlight, annotate, share, and manage your papers. I personally utilise their web app, IOS app, Chrome Extension and Word Plugin, all of which work seamlessly to help me save, sort, and access my papers. Paperpile also works seamlessly with Google docs and has an Android app too. It’s smart, it’s intuitive, and it’s simple. You can access your papers from your laptop, your phone, a tablet, the library, from uni, or at home – anywhere. These are my favourite things about using Paperpile:

Saving papers is easy.

They’ve made it really easy to save papers to your library. All you have to do is either drag and drop your PDFs to your account or let the Paperpile Chrome Extension do it for you! If you find a paper you think is useful, all you have to do is click the Paperpile logo within your browser to add it to your library, where it is available for you to search and read in the future. You can also search online within the Paperpile web app using the DOI or keywords, or by browsing online databases like Google Scholar.

Using their ‘auto-update’ tool, you can ask Paperpile to match and update the data for any article online. This means that they’re finding your references for you, saving you time and improving accuracy and consistency across all of your papers.

It's all in the cloud.

I really struggle reading PDFs on my computer for too long – if I download a paper on my computer, Paperpile allows me to instantly switch to my tablet to pick up where I left off. You can customise the reading experience too – using dark mode helps to make your papers less straining on your eyes, and you can create a page-turn experience too, for those who prefer reading a book! You can annotate and comment on your documents directly, adding different colours to create your summaries and notes. The best part is that these will be available on any device, too, meaning you can switch back to your computer and access your notes instantly!

Keep your papers organised.

Another top-notch feature of Paperpile is that it allows you to create folders and labels for your papers, which is a lifesaver when you’re working on different chapters or even different projects. Keeping things organized is vital when you’re working on a PhD, especially when you’re downloading more papers than you have time to read!

I utilise the labels feature in my own work as a scholar of religion and sexuality as it allows me to organise the literature into accessible themes such as ‘lived religion’, ‘Buddhism’, ‘Christianity’, ‘sexuality’ and ‘gender’, while also allowing me to seek out papers that span multiple themes, such as ‘lived religion’ and ‘Buddhism’. This is a perfect example of how using Paperpile adds value to your research process by simplifying your workflow, helping you keep organised, and saving you time.

Getting started using Paperpile.

Now for the sales pitch. For all its features, Paperpile is very fairly priced. It’s subscription- based and their academic plan is $2.99/month when billed annually (Jan 2023 price). I appreciate this might be a hard sell given that there are alternatives out there that are open-source and free. My advice is to try it and see the great value you’re getting for your buck.

They currently offer a free 30-day trial, which you can access by clicking here. You don’t need to give them any credit card details to give it a go, and you’ll have plenty of time to try out all the features.I know that the idea of learning a new reference manager can seem daunting – especially as we are busy researchers without enough hours in the day. This is far from the reality – Paperpile was started by researchers and is still very much developed with academics in mind. The clever crew behind it have removed all of the unnecessary complexities that make collecting, managing, and writing papers more difficult than it needs to be, meaning you can get on with your research!

I’d highly recommend giving the platform a try and seeing how it can improve your workflow.
Let me know how you get on! 


Links to Paperpile shared by The PhD Place are affiliate links provided as part of their sponsorship of our projects, meaning that Paperpile will be able to track how many people have used these links from The PhD Place community. However, we do not earn a commission for you trialling their platform or purchasing through this link.

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