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How To Get Organized With Reference Managers for Science—ReadCube Papers

A woman with a large red textbook covering the bottom half of her face to represent the top features of ReadCube Papers for scientists

For many scientists, reference managers are essential tools that ease the stress and effort of distilling years of research into a research grant, a thesis, and/or a manuscript.

We’ve already given you the lowdown on Mendeley and EndNote, two of the most well-established reference managers.

In this post, we’re going to tell you about ReadCube Papers, a more recent addition to the referencing software market, to help you decide which reference manager is best for you.

What is ReadCube Papers?

ReadCube was created by two Harvard students, Siniša Hrvatin and Robert McGrath.

While Siniša was working in a research lab as an undergraduate student, he encountered many of the inefficiencies and irritations that accompany the life of a researcher.

He discussed these frustrations with his computer scientist roommate, Robert McGrath, which led to the two students founding a company together—thus ReadCube was born.

Originally brought to you by Labtiva, ReadCube is now owned by Digital Science—part of Holtzbrinck, the majority shareholder in Springer Nature.

ReadCube’s reference management software, ReadCube Papers, offers many of the standard features of a reference manager, such as:

  • library generation for your references;
  • cloud syncing of your library;
  • access across devices; and
  • the ability to make notes, highlight text, and annotate PDFs.

In addition, the sleek and attractive interface makes ReadCube Papers incredibly user-friendly.

To help you make an informed decision about which reference manager to try, and potentially commit to, we’ve summed up some of ReadCube Papers’ unique features in this article.

Key Features of ReadCube Papers

1.     Citation Made Easy with SmartCite

The fundamental utility of reference managers lies in the fact that they allow users to insert perfectly formatted citations while writing without the need to switch between different documents, thereby creating a more efficient writing process.

Without such a tool, implementing feedback or suggested revisions, and/or resubmission to a different journal would spell disaster (well, quite a lot of extra work) for any research grant, thesis, or manuscript!

ReadCube Papers offers this same utility with SmartCite, which is compatible with Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

Licenses to Microsoft Office are often freely available through universities, but if this is not the case for you, it may be important to have a reference manager that, like ReadCube, is also compatible with alternative word processors.

This may also be useful if you prefer to use Google Docs for collaborative writing.

If this is an important consideration for you, you might want to consider other reference managers that are also compatible with Google Docs (e.g., Zotero, Sciwheel, Paperpile, and RefWorks).

2.    Interactive Reading with the Enhanced PDF Reader

Perhaps one of the best features of ReadCube Papers, and one I wish I knew existed when I was doing my PhD, is the enhanced PDF reader.

This feature overlays information about authors, references, and supplemental material onto the PDF, allowing for a more interactive reading experience.

Hovering your mouse over the author’s information brings up their institutional address and ORCID ID, and you can search for their work on PubMed, Google Scholar, and Nature Publishing Journals, allowing you to connect with them more easily and to view their wider research activities.

In addition, hovering over an in-text citation gives you the option to add that reference to your own library at the click of a mouse and/or access a PDF of the cited paper in your web browser.

This enables quick access to related papers and stops you from losing your place so you can maintain your workflow. Very important when writing!

Viewing Figures

Figures are also viewable in-line with ReadCube Papers’ enhanced PDF reader; this means that when you hover your mouse over an in-text figure citation, you can view that figure and its figure legend there and then without having to scroll to a separate page.

Being able to maintain your place in the PDF allows for a more focused reading experience.

I’ve tried this feature out myself and I have to say, I may be tempted to make the switch from Zotero based on this alone—what a game changer! If you’re curious, you can also try this feature out for yourself here.

In addition, the enhanced PDF reader allows users to view metrics associated with in-text citations, field, and relative citation counts, as well as Altmetric Attention Scores, all of which are designed to help you understand the type of attention different research outputs in your field are receiving.

You can also view mentions, which show how other researchers are citing the articles in your library.

3.    Stay Organized with Smartlists and Tags

When building your reference library, you can either drag and drop files you already have on your computer or, as mentioned previously, you can add papers directly to your library using the enhanced PDF reader feature.

You can also import papers using ReadCube Papers’ browser extension via Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Microsoft Edge.

Importantly, the web importer allows you to see whether an article is already in your library to prevent duplication, which can wreak havoc with your citations and bibliography.

ReadCube Papers helps users to stay organized and avoid a cluttered library with the Smartlist feature.

This allows papers to be automatically categorized when downloaded.

You can also assign color-coded tags to, in the immortal words of Marie Kondo, “spark joy” and create an additional level of organization.

Interestingly, you can also give your own rating of a paper, which may be a useful metric that enables you to quickly evaluate how useful a paper was for you or how good you think the research captured in said paper is, for example.

4.    Anywhere Access

Have you ever experienced the frustration of coming across a paywall for a paper you really need to access?

Fear no more—ReadCube has launched ReadCube Anywhere Access, which allows you to retrieve both open access and library subscribed content free.

You can register for Anywhere Access using your institutional log-in system and once authenticated, you can access full-text PDFs of eligible content from anywhere.

Students and research staff with library privileges of participating institutes can install the Anywhere Access web browser extension on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

As long as you don’t clear your caches of cookies, ReadCube even stores your institute access details so you can get articles in just a few clicks.

This is a great feature if you’re working remotely rather than on a computer that is connected to the institute’s intranet (particularly relevant considering the current situation we’re in).

However, it means that users can still access papers only from journals that their university or research institute is subscribed to.

5. COVID-19 Research Pass

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, ReadCube launched the COVID-19 Research Pass (CRP) program to facilitate and accelerate research into the development of therapies and into the improvement of clinical and public health outcomes.

Accessible through a simple online registration form, the CRP is available to researchers studying or writing about COVID-19.

Once approved, the CRP grants users direct access to over 26 million articles from a diverse range of topics (e.g., ventilators, respiratory diseases), which often remain hidden behind paywalls.

6.    Collaboration and Continuous Improvement

ReadCube Papers also helps to foster collaborations by allowing users to create shared collections to which specific people can be invited.

This is important for remote teams (again, very timely due to the pandemonium we’ve been living through) and journal clubs, and for collaborative writing.

However, collaboration isn’t just a one-way street for ReadCube Papers. Users can also request new features to be added in ReadCube user forums, which seems to foster a sense of continuous collaborative improvement.

A brief look at the ReadCube Papers support pages shows that many user-requested features have and continue to be implemented.

It is refreshing to see that ReadCube Papers is focused on optimizing the software based on what users would find useful.

ReadCube Papers Summarized

ReadCube has compiled a very handy set of tables that allow users to compare ReadCube Papers with other reference management software, including Papers 3, Mendeley, Endnote, and Zotero.

If you want to try ReadCube Papers, you’ll be pleased to hear that they are offering a 30-day free trial with no need to input credit or debit card information, so there is no risk of making an accidental financial commitment if, like me, you always forget to cancel free trials.

Whether you’re new to the world of reference managers, you haven’t used one in many moons, or you’d simply like to try out a different manager from the one you’ve been used to, we hope this post has been useful to you.

For more tips on keeping track of the scientific literature, head over to the Bitesize Bio Managing the Scientific Literature Hub.

Originally published May 13, 2013. Reviewed and republished December 2021

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1 Comment

  1. Mike D. Jones on May 22, 2013 at 6:24 am

    I had never heard of Readcube before this article – so hey, let’s try it out.

    I’ve only played with it for a little bit but I am impressed! It just works they way I ‘d want it to work is so sexy. Wait until i have a paper to write and I give it a real workout, but for now I may (try to) switch to it. I’ve used refworks, endnote and papers, this has a certain appeal to me that they don’t – though, there’s still a lot of novelty for now.

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