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A Zotero-based workflow for reading and annotating scientific articles

It's hard to imagine that you would be reading this blog if you don't know me, but just in case, I'm blind as a post. And I'm getting older. This presents me with something of a problem when it comes to the scientific literature, which will soon be set in typegaces that can be measured only in some quantum unit. Sure, pretty much everything contemporary is online now, either in HTML or PDF, so you can zoom it up to some comically huge size for easier reading. If you use preprint servers you can even see things in glorious PS. I work on a MacBook connected to a Thunderbolt display all day, and I tend to use my iPad when I sit on the couch in the evening after the kids go to bed. So I'm interested in a painless workflow that will let me tag things that sound interesting, move them to my iPad for easy reading and annotation, and then move them back into a central repository so that I can see the changes from almost anywhere. That's not too tall an order these days, right?

Surprisingly, the answer is, "No, actually, that's pretty easy." No doubt you can imagine my surprise. So, how do I do it? I was lucky enough to find Craig Eley's 2013 blog post on iPad Workflow: Zotero + Zotfile + ZotPad, which got me about 99% of the way there. In fact, the only thing I had any trouble with was an "Advanced Dropbox" setting in ZotPad that was converting blanks/spaces in filenames to underscores, and that was easily fixed.

Here's my workflow, fron my Mac to my iPad: Zotero (in Firefox) → ZotFileDropbox ZotPad Notability. The best thing about this is that all of the tools in this chain are free with the exception of Notability, which is $2.99 from iTunes or the Apple Store. Since you can use other PDF viewers/annotators, you don't even need to pay for that. You could just use the free Acrobat Reader for iPad. In the opposite direction, you just send the PDF from Notability back to ZotPad, and it gets synced back to Dropbox so that desktop Zotero can see the changes, easy-peasy.

Now that I have this up and running I'm pretty excited about it since I haven't been keeping up on my reading like I should because it's been getting harder. (Yes, I know, I'm off to my eye doctor soon.) I think that this is going to work well for me, but I'll have to let you know for sure in a couple of weeks.