Manage research papers on the go with PaperShip

Regular readers will be aware that I am always seeking out new technology to assist with the day-to-day job of research and teaching. One of the most time-consuming tasks, at least for me, is the management of my research library but PaperShip – a new IOS app for managing research papers on the iPad and iPhone – seems set to become my go to reading and annotation tool, and promises to help users better gauge the public impact of academic research.

There are an increasing number of tools that promise to help us manage our research libraries, from the old stalwart Endnote, through powerful programs such as Papers and Sente, to the relatively new kids on the block Zotero and Mendeley. Readers will know that for some time Zotero has been my go to app (see my previous post on Zotero here). Whilst these are great in the office and essential when preparing papers for publication, I prefer to read and annotate my research papers on the go using my iPad.

Most of these systems now have a mobile app for managing and reading papers on the go, however I have yet to find one which works reliably with larger databases or offers the range of features that I need (I have yet to try the Endnote app released early November 2013). Most of the systems are relatively expensive – with Papers and Sente coming in around $89 (£55) for the programme and mobile app (Sente does have a free version but this is limited to 100 papers), and Endnote costing a whopping $259 (£160) including the $9.99 (£5.99) mobile app. Mendeley does have a free IOS app but it functionality is limited and Zotero relies on the third-party Zotpad app, which for me is a little too clunky and has limitations in use.

The new kid on the block

Enter PaperShip. Designed for iPad and iPhone, PaperShip syncs with Zotero and Mendeley libraries, providing access to all items stored inside them. To add new references, it also imports directly from the web and automatically downloads full text PDFs when available. Each PDF can be annotated and highlighted, then stored back within the library with every modification saved. Annotated documents can also be shared via email, text messages, Facebook and Twitter. In use I have found PaperShip to be fast and reliable. Set up was as easy as adding in my Zotero or Mendeley username and password. You can decide if you want to download your complete library of papers to your device or choose to download individually as and when you need them. So far in use the app has been rock solid and reliable, one of the main problems that I had with other systems. It also looks good and has an intuitive interface taking cues from email apps such as Gmail and Mailbox.

Annotation features

The basic version of the app which allows you to download, read and manage your research papers. You can also annotate papers by exporting to a third-party app like Goodreader or iAnnotate. For a one-off payment of $9.99 (£5.99) however, you get access to PaperShips own annotation tools which are extremely powerful and as good as other tools I have ever used.


I would highly recommend spending the cash as the tools are great, and it is also a good way to support the developer.

Altmetric integration

One of the more interesting and unique features of PaperShip is that it displays the significance of publications by providing web-based metrics known as altmetrics. Online activities around a scholarly work are taken into account, such as the number of times a paper had been downloaded. With PaperShip, even non-peer-reviewed literature impact is measured, including Open Access publications. For such needs, the donut-shaped graphic from the Altmetric company is added to the PaperShip interface. The question of how article level metrics can inform qualitative assessments of impact is an interesting one and it is nice to see this feature included.


PaperShips has become my go to app for reading, managing and annotating my research library. I only wish that this app had been released a few years ago when I was completing my PhD!

You can download PaperShip for free on the App Store, and keep in touch by following the developers on Twitter (@papershipapp).

21 comments on “Manage research papers on the go with PaperShip
  1. Pingback: How to manage research papers on the go with PaperShip | Impact of Social Sciences

  2. Also worth mentioning the Google Scholar upgrade last week – It adds the papers you find to your library in Google Scholar (and every paper you have ever cited in your own publications), and gives the power of Google search to find things, Although no annotation yet, it is a significant step to a publication manager, with very convenient citation format download, and the stuff that is often hard with other citation managers like ‘cited-by’ to find more recent work.

    • Hi Pat

      Yes, I noticed this last week – very interesting and useful addition to Scholar. Perhaps Google will enter the reference manager market. Now if they were too add citation integration to Google Docs….


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  4. I appreciated reading this post. Very informative review. 1 year later… Is it still part of your workflow? Do you still recommend it? Am thinking about purchasing the annotation pack for iPad. Thanks!

    • Hi Jon

      Thanks for the comment. Quick answer is no, it is not still part of my workflow. Love the app, but I have recently come across Paperpile which is an awesome google docs based reference manager. As I do most of my collaborative writing in docs this has become my go to solution. I will writ a post on this soon!


      • Thank you for your reply. Am going into my second year of a PhD at University of Hawaii and have not committed to a reference manager yet. So, am trying to determine what setup is best for the long term. I checked out Paperpile and it looks good, but I see it is in beta and is a paid subscription. I’m just not sure how long it will last, and if it does fall, where does that leave me?

        What do you use for annotations to your PDFs on iOS? Do you no longer use Zotero as your primary reference manager? Have you been using Paperpile for awhile? Am eager to read your new post.

        Thank you again for your insight and prompt response.


  5. For the record Paperpile is by many, many orders of magnitude the best and most intuitive paper management tool I’ve ever used. I currently use it in combination with EndNote, but have used it with LaTex/BibTex before without issue.

  6. I have switched to Paperpile but have been using it for a few weeks. I hope that it continues to make improvements. Alex, I’ve been looking forward your review since this summer. I am very interested in your workflow.

    Big question: What app do you use to annotate papers in Google Drive that have been added through paperpile? Are there any recommendations you developed for annotating a paper, then updating the paper in drive with those new annotations? I have been experimenting with the new Good Reader and can’t yet find a system that works.

    Also, I am an avid user of Evernote, and it’s Webclipper to snag articles and inspiring blog posts from the web. Looking to see how I can use Evernote with Paperpile together.



  7. The person named Alex above in this thread mentioned that he used it in combination with Endnote. I wasn’t sure why that was necessary.

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  9. The app looks great but one issue struck me is that when I downloaded a PDF from one of my references it came out clear of annotations although I have had annotations on it from Menedely.

  10. Hi Alex, very useful review: thank you! I may be about to jump ship from a rather vanilla use of Zotero over the last couple of years, so could you possibly give the long answer and comment further on why Paperpile is so much better than PaperShip and alternatives (if it still is)? I am particularly interested in whether one can easily export annotation reports as text files (I like to back-up work this way), and if there is any possibility to work offline. (Also appreciated your post on Turnitin.)

    • Hi Jasper

      Thanks for the comment, it has inspired me to write a quick post on Paperpile which I have just published. In answer to your questions…

      1. You cannot export annotation reports with Paperpile (Yet). They are working on a new PDF annotation tool which is being Beta tested at the moment that will allow this. It looks very good 🙂
      2. Paperpile works offline as Google Docs does so you can write your paper without internet access.

      Hope this helps!



  11. Pingback: 5 Reasons why Paperpile is my new reference manger of choice | Dr Sustainable

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