Monthly Archives: October 2011

FAQs on DevonThink

It’s been far too long since I’ve written something, but life has been clamorous and manic in the best possible way. Academic life here is thrilling & overwhelming. Every day brings new ideas, new opportunities, new conversations — this tiny town is teeming with remarkable people, and I am frequently bewildered that I should be here, astonished at & thankful for my good fortune. I’ve also found that my reading horizons have been abruptly prised open. In spending most of my academic life in one (wonderful) milieu, I’ve gotten to know a given constellation of authors by whose familiar lights I navigated my intellectual world. Now I walk under stranger stars, and it’s exciting to be here with an armful of uncharted books.

I wanted to briefly answer a few questions I’ve been getting in response to my series on DevonThink [1] [2] [3].

Files in DT

Many people have asked how I store files in DT. My general principle is to store archive material directly in the database, but to index (i.e. link externally to) PDFs of journal articles, which I store in the “Attachments” folder in Bookends (my preferred citation management software). You can do this by clicking and dragging a PDF into the database while holding Cmd+ option. This makes the article searchable within DT without duplicating it in both applications.

Web bookmarks

I don’t tend to use the RSS or web bookmarking features in DT, because I prefer to have all my material available with or without an Internet connection. If I want to use a web article, I tend to PDF it. YMMV according to how much of your research is based on web materials — for me, almost none.


I do use the wonderful Scrivener, and some of you noticed that my seventh label is in fact called “Scrivener”. I use this to mark documents in my database which I have copied into Scrivener’s research folder. I had one Scrivener project per thesis chapter, and extracted documents relevant to that chapter from DT into Scrivener. Labelling them in DT helped me avoid accidental duplication. This was more of a hack than a strategy — tedious, but it was late enough in the thesis game that it did what it needed to do. I need to think more about this, but a future post on Scrivener is definitely in order.

Other apps

I’ve never used Sente or Papers (on the former, see the interesting exchange between Bruce Williamson and Peter Medway in the comments) but I did experiment with Evernote, and found it not quite to my liking. I’m not sure why — perhaps the lack of structure, or haphazardness, or the fact that for some reason uploading pictures from my iPhone just didn’t seem to work all that well for me. But I know many for whom it is an indispensable part of their workflow, so I’d still encourage anyone thinking about their research systems to give both a go. Finally, I gave up on Microsoft Word for Macs a long time ago, switched to the glorious Mellel (which integrates with Bookends), and never looked back.