Vivek Kumar Jha
Vivek Kumar Jha Ph.D. student in extragalactic astrophysics. Interested in resolving the innermost regions of Supermassive black holes in AGN.

3 min read

Mendeley Reference Manager

Being involved in research means dealing with a lot of papers on a day to day basis. Be it reading them, organizing them, or referencing them we often face a perilous task. A collection of scores of pdf documents scattered here and there in multiple folders is not something unheard of. Often we spend a lot of time looking for a particular part of the text from a paper but unable to locate it. While writing papers, and searching for references I’ve seen a lot of people doing it manually which is a waste of precious research time.

Thanks to the advances in software in the past years, we have a tool which can do it all for us, saving a lot of time and energy as well. It is ‘MENDELEY’ offered by Elsevier. Mendeley is a library manager which can store and arrange all the pdf documents we put into it. A very informative guide is available on the official website.

​My first interaction with Mendeley was when I was doing research work related to my dissertation as a part of the M Sc. course. The scholars in that lab were pretty much using Mendeley on a day-to-day basis and from there I picked up the idea of organizing papers nicely into a library interface. It is a versatile software available for almost all desktop and mobile systems. As we use Debian based Linux for our research, there is a .deb package available on the website.

There is an app on the android app store as well which can be pretty helpful in organizing the research papers. The Mendeley website offers a web library interface that is not very different from the one we have on the desktop. Apart from that, browser extensions are available for both Chrome and Firefox browsers which can be used to save the articles we open in the browser to be directly saved to the web library. In fact, the experience is extremely seamless, one can read a document on her laptop and highlight some text and can continue with the same point at her desktop at a later time. No need to waste time searching for that one particular paragraph from scores of papers put in unlimited folders. The sync works perfectly fine across all devices. One can also assign a folder in which Mendeley will automatically look for papers once the application starts. Of course, everything syncs to the web library eventually.

One has to create a single Mendeley account for all the devices preferably over the website and then use the same login credentials for every device. After that the installation is pretty simple, just follow the steps in a logical fashion and within a few seconds, you’ll have your own library waiting for the papers to put it. Then there are a few ways in which the papers could be added:

  • Using the Chrome and Firefox browser extensions, just click on save once you come across a paper, and it’ll be dropped into your library.
  • Add a watch folder, and Mendeley will automatically look for files in that folder.
  • Add files/folders manually using a point and click interface. The documents will then be uploaded to your Mendeley account online.

So once the library is set up and we have a collection of papers, the first thing to notice is that it can automatically sort and arrange the papers based on author name, title, publication year, journal name, etc. For incomplete references, Mendeley offers to search the database using the arXiv IDs or DOIs which maybe available in the document metadata. All the files are stored locally as well as synced with the cloud library. One can also create groups to keep the papers more organized.

A pdf reader is built in the Mendeley package. It is a versatile pdf reader with annotation capabilities. One can mark, highlight, add comments at any point in the document. Besides the library offers a fully searchable interface meaning one can look for the exact phrase or line in a collection of 1000 papers! Imagine doing that manually.

Although the basic edition is free to use, there is a limitation of 2GB storage per account. The pricing is pretty simple 5GB will cost you approximately $55/year and $165/year for unlimited storage. For me, the free edition suffices the need for now. Let’s see what happens in the future.

Ever since I installed this application on my desktop, I guess I have saved a lot of time. There is no need to look for papers through my file explorer or terminal. If I have to search for a particular text snippet, I just put that in my Mendeley search bar and it searches for the same in all the papers and of course, it makes life easy. Apart from that, the inbuild BibTeX means I don’t need to run here and there for references for my texts as Mendeley can easily export all the references in BibTeX format. If I come across a nice paper, or during the arXiv search something catches my attention, it goes straight to my library within a few seconds using the Chrome extension.

While writing drafts, the automatically exported .bib file is hassle-free for the bibliography. Some web links including tutorials for Mendeley are listed below:


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