The Best Apps for an Awesome Research-Flow (Mac and iPad Users)

After writing about getting started with the research process. I started thinking about better ways to support my approach to getting things done. I didn’t just want to get this done, I wanted to get them done efficiently and effectively.

So I reviewed my research workflow. And, after going through every imaginable storage, reference manager, and word processing service findable via google, I settled on a set of applications that work really well for me.

I’m a mac user and have been for about 7 years, I also love using my iPad mini to do work and started using it exclusively few years ago (it’s really great for travel!).  For the apps, I needed some of them to be accessible on a mac and windows os, and others to have robust set of features and connectivity across my devices.  So hardware aside, here my major research work-flow apps!


I’ve been using dropbox since I was in undergrad. In the past, I used it to store my photos when I was traveling. But now, I use it to house the ever-growing pdf library.  

I conduct a lot of initial research online and, because the research I look at is transdisciplinary, I need a place to store everything so I can read it on my iPad mini on reading days.  I looked around at lots of different services, because dropbox only holds about 2gb of stuff, but then I settled back on dropbox. It works best with my other applications, especially when working between a mac and windows. The best part is that dropbox has the fastest transfer speed, and it’s the most reliable when moving documents around.

On an iPad you can save to dropbox/copy to dropbox, which is really great for saving pdfs from an email or googlescholar on the go. Then it syncs easily and quickly to my mac AND my windows computer at school.

If you’re interested in signing up for a new dropbox account, you can use this link to get an extra 500mb on top of your 2gb free


After I’ve uploaded my articles. I use goodreader to read and annotate my pdfs.  It’s, honestly, the best one I've found, and has a lot of features I haven’t tapped into, yet.

I use this app because of its flexible, diverse range of “tools”: pen, comment, highlight, underline, draw, shape, etc.  It connects to several different cloud storage services (of course I’m using dropbox as above). I have a chaotic organised note-taking process where GoodReader works really well for me.


Once I’ve taken notes on the articles themselves, I like to move the annotated pdfs to a folder in dropbox titled: Reference Manager*.  At this point Mendeley does the most marvelous thing that is specific to this reference manager. It uploads the file to the mendeley servers, picks out and uses the article's metadata, and saves a copy in the external flash drive connected to my macbook pro in a folder with the author’s last name and new search friendly title.

This paring of mendeley and dropbox, is also one of the reasons I’ve stuck with less dropbox space. (I, also, just really don’t want to buy more space!!). Mendeley ONLY gives you 2gb of free space to start with (which is more than any other reference manager, I might add). Together, I know that if my dropbox library is using 1.5 gb of space, then so is Mendeley. 

Don’t get me wrong, 2gb of space isn’t a lot if you’re saving big files like: photos, videos, design files (.ai, .psd,...), and so on. BUT! 2gb is really plenty of space for hundreds–possibly thousands–of pdf articles.  

*One of reasons I move my files into a reference manager folder, is for security reasons. Doing a phd can last over three years, and a lot can happen in that time.  What would you do if your computer crashed, or dropbox goes under, or mendeley doesn’t work anymore?  You'd wish you had copies, right?  Me too–I need that access to my notes now and in the future, so taking that extra step insures I stay secure and flexible.


So in conjunction with Mendeley, I generate notes from my pdfs to Evernote. I use an approach I’ve adapted with color-coding, where the colors I use to annotate pdfs, coincide with the colors I use to generate notes on Evernote.  You can read about how I get more out of the note-taking process here.

Again, this gives me a copy and further discussion space for my work, meaning I can access my work in multiple ways.  It also helps me when it comes to for writing up my research.  And again, Evernote is one of those applications I’ve been using since college, when I switched from a windows computer (using their OneNote Application) to a macbook pro.

Have you found a research workflow that works best for you? Share in the comments!