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PDF Reading List

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Hi All, 


I am currently working on my PhD and have around 1000 PDF documents stored in my research folder. Although all are named the same way and they are easy to find, I am looking for a way to create some sort of "PDF reading list" by which I can make a list of PDF documents that I need to read later. At the moment I have some 10+ documents opened in the preview and minimize them - not the best way. I came across the buffer option in Alfred, which is wonderful, unfortunately as alt+backspace deletes all items in the buffer I constantly delete all items there as this is the usual combination I use when I delete some text. 


Having said this, I am looking for a workflow that allows me to create a reading list but for PDFs that are already stored and saved on my computer. It might be possible to solve this problem through a workflow - it would be just necessary to say something like this "add item/pdf document to a list" If I hit a keyword the list of marked PDF documents would show up and I can click on them to start reading them. Maybe anyone has an idea or a suggestions or even an app that can do this. 


If it is unclear what I mean, please let me know and I try to describe my "problem" in more detail. 


Many thanks for your help! 




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This is an interesting posting, one question do you have your PDF’s filed or indexed in any app, such as DevonThinkPro or are they simply in a folder on your hard drive? As a PhD student I would be surprised if you haven’t  It would then be very easy to either tag or flag the documents you want on your reading list & thereby make such a list. I did a very similar thing when I was doing my Research Masters and it was invaluable. 

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Yeah, you are right, tagging or flagging documents would be a solution. I am kind of working with DevonThink, but it does not convince me - maybe I should look at it again. I have a good overview over my documents and since I search for them with Alfred it would be easy to create such a list within Alfred to not open or use another program. I am working with Alfred +  Scrivener + Bookends and would love to keep the number of programs to a minimum. Maybe such a workflow would be a nice addition. Would it be possible to use the native OS X tags with Alfred, this might be of help. 



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I do not know enough about Alfred to help you as I am a very new user myself, but would encourage you to spend some time getting used to DevonThink, it is worth it for so many reasons not leas it “see also & classify’ capabilities which quite frankly became indispensable for me, their User Forum is a very useful resource and I am sure someone would be able to help you with ideas on how to set what you want up. (By the way I have no connection whatsoever with Devon Technologies!)

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Although created with video in mind, WatchList (disclaimer: I’m the author) can help with some of that. You can add PDFs to the list, reorder them, and keep track of what you read (opened) and haven’t. You can also batch remove the ones you’ve read and don’t need (if that happens). You do need to open them one by one, though, and having such a large list, it’d probably be better to use a dedicated app, as suggested, than using Alfred to manage them.

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Allsop, thanks for your thoughts. Maybe you are right and I should spent some more time getting used to DevonThink. 


Vitor, that is perfect! This is what I was looking for. Many, many thanks!! Is is not that I am looking for a tool to set up a list of 50+ documents that I need to read, it is more like 5-10 in the near future or for a specific chapter/section, though your workflow looks very much of help! Thanks! 


@Vitor: It would be great, if possible, to allow quick look (pressing shift) within the workflow. Not sure if this is possible. 

Edited by Easytiger
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It would be great, if possible, to allow quick look (pressing shift) within the workflow. Not sure if this is possible.


Not without modifying the workflow’s logic as well. I’ve made it work this way for various reasons related to dealing with lists, so I likely won’t be changing it.

Edited by Vítor
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Although created with video in mind, WatchList (disclaimer: I’m the author) can help with some of that. You can add PDFs to the list, reorder them, and keep track of what you read (opened) and haven’t. You can also batch remove the ones you’ve read and don’t need (if that happens). You do need to open them one by one, though, and having such a large list, it’d probably be better to use a dedicated app, as suggested, than using Alfred to manage them.

Vitor, I like this, but as I said I am a very new user of Alfred so please bare with me. I have read and downloaded your workflow but am stuck on how to add the files to the list. Sorry to be thick , could you explain please? Thanks.

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Two ways.

  • Select a file on the Finder, and press the File Selection Hotkey. You can find what it is by looking in PreferencesFeaturesFile SearchActions (File Selection is at the bottom).
  • Select a file in Alfred, and press the Show Actions key (it’s in the same tab as File Selection, but at the top).

You’ll then be given a list of options. Pick Add to watchlist.

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This is a bit of an aside - let me take off the Alfred hat and put on the professor hat for a minute....


I wouldn't go near DevonThink - it's overkill for bibliographies on one hand, and it doesn't have the library/database integration that dedicated bibliographic software has.


But I'd also never try to manage PDFs just with the file system.  I have about 5000 PDFs indexed in a library in BibDesk (even though I don't write in BibTeX) that originally began 20 years ago as a 400-item Paradox database (in the days of WordPerfect) when I was a 1st year grad. student.  If you are serious about an academic career, you should be using some bibliographic management software -- if I were to start now, I might do it in Zotero rather than BibDesk but the formats are generally exportable/importable relatively easily (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_reference_management_software ).  The sooner you start doing it, the better - right now you may have one list that you want to maintain of things to read, but soon enough you will have lists by courses you are taking and/or teaching, for comps, for research proposals, articles, thesis, second book, etc.  And a lot of your PDFs are going to belong in more than one of those places.  If you're annotating your PDFs, you don't want multiple copies...so you can create aliases (and now tags, which helps but doesn't solve all the problems) in the file system.


So for keeping a reading list -- my BibDesk library at the moment has about 10 static folders titled "_current.project_name" for various articles and book chapters.  Each of those has the full biblio for the selected project.  Publications are tagged "to read" if I haven't read them.  So depending on the project I am working on, I can filter the project biblio by the tag "to read."  And this is all exposed to Applescript (one of the great things about BibDesk).  So -- say you have set up a smart group for all of the publications you have added in the last month, and those are what you want to be reading from -- you could put this script in an Alfred workflow:


tell application "BibDesk"




tell document 1

select group "added in last month"

select (search for "to read")

end tell

end tell


and it would automatically give you your reading list.  Yes, you could do this with smart folders and Mavericks tags, but when the day comes that you want to write and cite some of the documents you've been reading, having it all indexed in biblio. software will make it much less painless.  Especially if you are submitting to journals with different citation formats.  It may seem like more work up front, but Google Scholar and all of the big academic databases let you download the citation info.  If I am going to read something related to my research, chances are it's worth being able to find it again, so it's worth the minute or two that it takes to get it into the database up front.  Just start with what you are currently reading, then you can catch up on the rest later.


Also...looking at your 1st post - with BibDesk at least the PDF files can remain exactly where they are, and you can set it up to auto file new PDFs according to a customizable naming convention - mine are filed in folder by first letter of author's last name, then author date title.pdf .  So everything is still easily findable if you're not using your biblio software.


Anyway, there's my unsolicited advice - same advice I give my grad. students - the long-term payoff is greater & the work is less the sooner in your career you start using biblio. software.

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@dfay. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments regarding bibliography software, DevonThink is not the right app for that, but as I understood the OP’s query he was just wanting a list of stuff to read, rather like a reminder list, ratherthan a complete bibliography app. Surely if he has got to PhD level he would have one? If not he should have and the ones you mentioned are worthy, personaly I used Endnote which is another alternative. I would, however, still recommend DevonThink for anyone doing a Higher Degree for so many reasons, and as I said it could be used for a reading list. 

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@dfay: Thanks for your thoughts. I of course use a bibliography software. The one I use is called Bookends. This helps me to organize all my citations the same way as BibDesk. Of course, with Bookends I can create smart folders where I can tag references and call the smart folder "to read". That would be possible. As Alfred is a pretty easy way of searching for files on your computer, it would be great to create, as I said and as Allsop mentioned it again in his last post, a short reading list for a specific issue I am currently dealing with. Lets say, the next 5-10 documents. This is a different thought in mind to the one I guess you had in mind when writing your post. Marking the 100+ documents which I generally still need to read, Bookends is good to do this. Alfred is just the easy way, as I can directly and easily open the document with no need to switch software all the time. 


Generally, I am using Alfred, Scrivener and Bookends for my PhD and other research. This is a pretty powerful combination I think. DevonThink might be a useful contribution, just need to take a closer look at it. It might be also useful to look at BibDesk again, although I don't see that much advantage compared to Bookends. 


Of course all files are named the same way, thus they are easy to find on my computer. 


Therefore, Vitors Workflow is pretty useful, although for my purposes it could need some adjustments to make it better for PDFs. But never mind, as Vitor has said, he created it for other purposes. 

Edited by Easytiger
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Yeah, as I have been dealing with students before I can well imagine what you mean. Working myself in a research institute, it is even difficult to convince colleagues to switch to useful software for research. It is just hard to change the way they work - the few I have convinced to look at some powerful software were very pleased in the end :-) 


As I  like working with Alfred I just try to get as much as possible sorted, organized and done with Alfred. 

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