[Productivity] How to Use Paperpile for Reference Management

It is uncommon for social scientists to write every manuscript alone except for a thesis or dissertation. Even if we write and revise a draft alone, we still need multiple comments and revision processes, which can become complicated to combine if done with multiple people.

Therefore, utilizing cloud-based document-sharing services has become crucial and very popular. Cloud-based document-sharing services that allow multiple people to work on the same document simultaneously have become a norm in collaboration, such as Google Workspace (e.g., Google Docs, Google Spreadsheet) and Microsoft 365 Online. In the case of disciplines that use a lot of formulas for manuscripts, they are likely to collaborate on LaTeX programs (e.g., overleaf). Personally, I mostly work on Google Docs. This is because G Suite offers business membership for those with education accounts. Almost everyone has a Gmail account and has used Google Docs before, so it has been the best collaboration tool for me so far.

Then, a critical question arises for multiple researchers working on a single paper: “How to combine all the references?” One person can do it all in the end, but in fact, the ideal situation is for each to insert references as they write their own part. The most efficient way to do this is to use the same reference management tool to automatically generate the Bibliography at the end, depending on your citation style. The problem is, how to collect and insert references when multiple people are working on it simultaneously on Google Docs?

The various reference management tools are working to resolve this issue, and I believe all have a reference folder-sharing feature. For example, Refworks offers reference library sharing and a Google Docs Add-on. So far, I have tried Refworks, Endnote, and Mendeley (not tried Zotero yet). As you see on the graph from Google Trends, Paperpile is not a very popular or well-known software for reference management. However, in my experience, the most user-friendly and well-compatible with Google Docs was Paperpile, as I have been using it for several years. It has many user-friendly features if you are a big fan of Google Workspace.

Paperpile Pricing

Maybe the monthly fee ($2.99/month for academic access) is a drawback, as most schools only have Endnote and Mendeley as affiliates.


The features that Paperpile has is well promoted on their website. In practice, I feel that each feature works, and I find it easy to use. Here are the features that I loved and how to use Paperpile.

1. Easy to Import the Reference on Chromium Browser and PDF files

With Endnote, I had to download the reference file (e.g., enw format). Of course, I could download it all at once from Google Scholar, but I still thought it was inconvenient because it required additional clicks. And it was also inconvenient to delete the enw files file after importing them into the library. With Paperpile, instead of downloading the reference file and then importing it, you can import it with one click, including the pdf attachment on Google Drive. When you install the Chrome add-on, you get this screen, and when you just click it, it imports. A check mark appears if it is already imported, so you can easily avoid duplicates (Of course, there is a remove duplicates feature).

If you install the Chrome extension, you can import references by clicking the Paperpile button on any page. There is no need to search for a reference download button. This even works well on websites and articles, making it easy to import articles or websites into your bibliography.

It works not only on Google Scholar and journal websites, but also on Google search results, which is great.

2. One-click PDF download: The automatic PDF attachment ratio is very high.

In Paperpile, managing PDF files is sometimes a needy and time-consuming task. Thus, many bibliographic management tools offer this “find full-text” feature to automatically download journal articles (pdf files) and attach them to the library. However, in my case, Endnote’s full-text connection rate was only 30%, even when the guide was followed to connect the university library account. So, there was a tedious process that I had to download and attach one by one.

In the case of Paperpile, if you log in with your university library account, the full-text attachment rate reaches about 90%. It’s really, really convenient. As long as the paper is attached, you can view the PDF file on the Chromium browser with an in-app browser.

If the full text is publicly available, it is automatically downloaded. If it is restricted use, you must log in with your school library account to download it. You can also set up a reference manager tool to automatically download most files by linking them to your school account (proxy server).

To connect a proxy, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the institution icon in the upper right corner.
  2. Click on “Configure proxy access.”
  3. In the proxy access window, click on “Add a proxy connection.”
  4. Fill in the Name and URL by googling <Full-text search proxy> and use the information provided by your school library.

In addition, the PDF download can be saved on the Paperpile server and connected to Google Drive, allowing you to use it without taking up any computer storage.

3. In-app browser for taking notes: you can take notes and sync in real-time without requiring other programs.

PDF annotations

The note-taking feature of the reference managers I had used before was very inconvenient and had limited features, with only the ability to write basic notes and use a highlighter. With Paperpile, I was able to view PDFs directly in the Chrome browser, and it is also much faster, eliminating the need to load a separate PDF viewer and attach it again. In addition, the features are quite high-quality, offering features such as highlighting (multiple and custom colors), note-taking, and memo writing. You can download all the memos or highlighted sections at once on the browser as well.

Summary of annotations of a PDF

▶️Attention! To use Paperpile’s In-app extension viewer, you need to change the settings as follows.

4. Integration with both Google Docs and Microsoft Word.

From the Official Paperpile Website

Going back to the introduction of this post, I am confident that Paperpile is well integrated with Google Docs. The shared folder feature also works well, allowing multiple people to search for and insert references in the same document (however, others must also use Paperpile). More information on the Google Docs integration feature can be found here.

For MS Word software, you can install the MS Word plugin here. You can import/export from MS Word and Google Docs to the other formats by Paperpile features.

5. Android and Apple applications for Mobile Phones and Tablet PCs

As everyone knows, Refworks and Endnote do not have Android applications. So, it is difficult to view on tablets or phones. For this reason, many people used Mendeley, but I found that Mendeley had a lot of errors for some reason to me. Furthermore, they announced that they would end their mobile app service, so many people are in confusion about where to go. Let’s use Paperpile together! Note that, of course, the application also provides annotation and syncing features.

Thus, I conclude my review and recommendation for Paperpile, which is currently the best reference management tool I have used so far (for sure, I did not get paid at all; I have paid for years!). I hope everyone can save time with reference management tools and use some saved time for their life. I believe efficient use of educational technology is necessary for academics to have a work-life balance.

  • April 3, 2021