How Mendeley Desktop can improve your research skills

Mendeley Desktop is one of the best research tools for academics and students. No matter what kind of research you’re doing, this is the type of tool you need to make things as smooth as possible.

If you’ve never heard of Mendeley or want to learn how to get the most out of it, here’s how this software can boost your research skills.

What is Mendeley Desktop?

Before we go any further, we need to clarify exactly what Mendeley Desktop is and isn’t. Mendeley is the desktop component of the Mendeley research ecosystem. This software resides on your desktop computer and is separate from the web interface or mobile applications.

Of course, Mendeley’s mobile apps are also an important part of the overall system. The cloud service is the glue that holds everything together. We’ll touch on these other components of the overall service as well, but the main topic is the desktop application.

Mendeley: Free vs. Premium

In the past, the free version of Mendeley had some serious limitations. Today, however, the main difference between a free service and a premium service is the amount of cloud storage you get. Free users get two gigabytes of cloud storage, and premium users get ever-increasing amounts depending on how much they pay.

Free users also have the option to create five private groups that can have up to 25 contributors. We will talk about this group collaboration feature a little later. It is highly unlikely that independent researchers or students will only pay for the premium version.

If you need larger collaboration groups or a lot of cloud storage, you will most likely have some kind of institutional license for Mendeley, since you probably work at a university or research institution. Be sure to check with your institution before paying yourself.

First step: consuming sources

At its core, Mendeley Desktop is a reference management tool. You can’t do anything with the program if you don’t have the source base. Since manually entering the details of each source can be tedious, Mendeley Desktop has some great tools to help speed up the process.

Most scientific articles are available as a PDF document. You can designate specific folders on your hard drive to view Mendeley Desktop. Any PDF files you copy to this folder will be automatically uploaded to your database.

Mendeley will try to automatically extract the relevant information from the document, even if each PDF is in a completely different format. You have to make sure the information is correct, but it will save a lot of time in the long run.

If you still need to enter the source manually, sometimes you can just enter the name and then mark the source as “needs review”. Mendeley will then check the title against Google Scholar and automatically fill in all the information if it finds a match.

You should also create your own lists for your sources. When you first enter new research sources into Mendeley, it all goes into an unsorted pile. This is not the best way to leave things if you are working on multiple documents or projects.

Annotations and notes

After you’ve uploaded a new research article to your Mendeley database, you can highlight important pieces of text and leave notes for yourself and team members.

This is a critically important feature for anyone involved in scientific research. Hundreds of sources can accumulate during research. It’s important to highlight all the parts related to your own article and keep track of your thoughts in an orderly fashion while reading the research of others.

The best part of Mendeley Desktop is automatic citation

Ask anyone who has had to write academic papers and they will tell you that one of the most tedious parts of writing is the citations and bibliographies at the end of the piece. One of the best things about Mendeley Desktop is that you can automate almost all of your citation work.

All you have to do is carefully collect all the sources of your research in the Mendeley database. Then, as you write your article, you can use Mendeley Desktop plugins in your word processor to insert citations as you go.

The real magic comes when you’re done and need to compile a list of sources or a bibliography. If you place all the citations in your material as you work, you only need to click one button to automatically generate the entire list of sources in the correct academic citation format.

This isn’t as much of a problem with shorter articles, but if we’re talking about a full dissertation or a long research paper with hundreds of sources, this feels like the best feature ever created.

Mendeley is great for teams

Mendeley Desktop is ideal for students working independently on research projects, as well as academics writing and publishing independently. However, nowadays the prevailing trend is towards joint publishing with other scientists. After all, it’s publish or perish.

Mendeley has great collaboration tools that allow people to collectively collect literature, share abstracts, and otherwise share the research load. Not only does this mean you’ll get work done faster, it also means you can learn from other people on the team who are more experienced researchers than you.

Mendeley helps you find important documents

No matter what academic discipline you’re in, it’s important to always stay up-to-date on the latest research. Mendeley is an incredibly powerful tool for finding new articles worth reading. Called Mendeley Suggest, this feature uses your personal profile along with a system that tracks which articles are read and cited the most to provide you with suggestions for your reading list.

You’ll see articles that have significant influence in your industry and that you should probably read. This is a huge step forward compared to the old style of conducting a literature review. Of course, you shouldn’t rely on something like Mendeley Suggest by itself.

The most essential research tool in your arsenal

There’s a reason academic publishing giant Elsevier bought Mendeley and why it’s been so popular over the years. This piece of software saves many from tedious research and academic writing. Not only will this make you a more productive scholar, but it will also make you more motivated to write!

Knowing that the boring parts of the job are automated or done much faster means you can feel excited about writing your research instead of dreading it. This is much more than half the battle.

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