April 2009 Archives

Paperlesser: Reviewing Papers


For a few months now, I have moved to reviewing papers without printing them. This is a quick post describing how I do it.

I usually review paper in three passes:

  1. a quick read, writing down annotations and questions to myself or to the authors;
  2. a much slower read, where I revise my annotations and questions, and often add many new ones;
  3. the actual writing of the review, collecting the annotations.

Moving from paper to screen is fairly simple, as there is a great free tool to annotate PDF files: Skim. A nice thing about Skim is the PDF Bundle format. This format allows to leave the PDF untouched while packaging the annotations alongside it in a way that many applications can understand.

The second crucial tool, which is not free this time, is EagleFiler. I won't go too much into the details, but the three main reasons that it works so well are: it lets me easily create a PDF bundle out of a PDF, it is able to display the annotations in its viewer pane, and it can search both in the annotations as well as in the PDF text.

So my workflow to review papers is:

  1. convert the PDF to PDF bundle format using this script;
  2. do the review writing annotations using Skim;
  3. write the review and store it along the annotated PDF.

I have found quite useful to keep annotated versions of a paper, when I get to review the same paper several times. Doing it paperlessly not only saves trees, it is more convenient.



I've been noticing a trend in my life recently, which I think I should share. I'm using less and less paper.

It started by producing less paper, for instance by not printing research article and reading them directly on the screen. But it now goes further than that, as I'm slowly moving away from printing articles that I review (I have a blog post about this almost ready) and doing most of my reading on electronic devices.

I did read a full book on my faithful, and now given away, Palm T|T3. It was Hacker Crackdown, available as a free ebook. But the Palm was clearly not the best device to read on. In parallel, I started reading more and more on my laptop screens as they were becoming sharper and sharper. Reading on the LED-lit 15 inch of my MacBook Pro is in fact a pleasure.

The one event that changed many things is getting an iPhone. (I'd love to say it was the Kindle, but we cannot get it in France.) I bought Classics, and have just finished re-reading Flatland on it. I have Stanza, and I'm reading the Pragmatic Bookshelf TextMate book with it. (Incidentally, I bought this book as PDF only. I recently discovered I could download it as a DRM-free ebook. This is great service!) I even installed the Kindle application, just to try it.

You may wonder why I (voluntarily) entitled this post “Paperlesser” and not “Paperless”. I do not believe I can live without paper, and many books require paper to be enjoyed thoroughly. I am for instance reading the Watchmen comics, and I cannot imagine doing so on a screen. Writing is also fundamental: there is a sense of dedication when I write something down in my Moleskine notebook that I do not feel when typing. But for many uses, I am moving away from paper. I own too many paperbacks, and I will get rid of most of them. Because I know I'll never read them again, so I could use the space, and someone could use the books. And more shelf space for board games is always a good thing, isn't it?

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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