How to share papers with your students in Evernote

Although I have only supervised a couple of students during my tenure track, I already found often saying the same thing during each meeting – in particular, what are good papers to start reading about a particular topic. Since I was already an avid Evernote (get 1 month premium for free here) user, I decided to see if shared Evernote notebooks could be the solution to share papers with students. This might be also an option if you are organizing a journal club. Read on for the solution!

Initial setup 

I was already keeping track of the papers I read in Evernote – see this post on organizing my bibliography with Evernote and Jabref, but I will recap some things here. 

Remember that Evernote is not a reference manager, but it is where I store the paper PDFs and notes about the papers. Jabref is where I store the references. The only link between the two is the Bibtex key, which is how I name the note in Evernote. 

This is my paper collection i Evernote – 864 in total – and each note is a paper (or report, etc).

Each note is at least the PDF I saved (below), and perhaps some notes I made about the paper, like this: 

And this is how it looks like in Jabref:

Since there is no direct link, I might have a paper in one place but not the other, but papers that I cited in my own research in the last few years, are definitely in both.

Sharing your paper collection with others

Since Evernote allows sharing notebooks, to have a shared collection of papers all you need is to share the notebook with the people involved. For the students I was supervising, I used the “can edit” as permissions so they could also add new notes, annotate papers etc. But you could also choose “can view” option if you prefer.

Sharing a collection of 800+ papers is probably not effective 🙂 But what helps here a lot, is the tagging system of Evernote. When I add a paper to this notebook, I add several types of tags:

  • Type (paper, thesis, etc)
  • Topics (specific types of machine learning, applications etc)
  • Projects (a specific project where I might want to cite this paper)
  • “Priority” (p1, p2, p3 or p4)

I have been using the type, topics and projects for a while, but the priority was an addition after I shared the notebook. Roughly, the priorities translate as:

  • p1 – everybody in the lab should read this
  • p2 – important paper for many projects in the lab
  • p3 – relevant to some projects
  • p4 – not related to our research but more “general interest”

With these tags, you can then do queries on topic & priority. So for example if your project is on transfer learning and you want to find all papers I might suggest, the query “tag:ml-transfer & tag:p2” gets you 43 results. Still a lot, but now it’s doable to screen the results and narrow them down. 

It’s good to mention that since the notebook is originally mine, only my tags can be used within the notebook. So somebody with edit permissions would be able to add more of the tags that I use, but not add entirely new tags. 

Pros

  • The system is easy to use, paid account only needed if you want a lot of storage
  • Saves time both for me and for students
  • Less chance to miss a relevant paper
  • Everybody can use their own reference manager if they want

Cons

  • Could limit the way students explore literature
  • Limited commenting possibilities (notes from everyone appear the same by default) 
  • No true integration with a reference manager

Conclusion

This system has been quite helpful for me with several student projects. However, there are many things I am still missing, such as creating your own fields for each paper, and interacting with the annotations through a spreadsheet. (This is possible in Notion, but that is something for another post…)

However, an important quality of any system is that you actually use it. Since I already use Evernote on a daily basis, it works for me. But I’d love to know what everybody else is using for sharing literature with others – please leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter!

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