How to process articles from monthly academic journals with a minimum of friction

Now that Zotero has an official iPad client, I’m trying to do more of my monthly journal reading in Zotero. I’m having difficulty figuring out how to do this.

Ideally, I would like to:

  1. Quickly review abstracts from a given journal article.
  2. Add abstracts of note to my library.
  3. Download PDFs of compelling articles for review and processing.

In reality, what this looks like is:

  1. Go to mac.
  2. Look at feed of journal (as this is not available on iPad)
  3. Select articles and put in my Zotero Inbox.
  4. Download PDFs on Mac
  5. Pick up Ipad and review journal article

Ideally I would love to do all of this on my Ipad, but as far as I can tell the most recent version of Zotero does not support feeds, nor does the bookmarklet seem to be effective at adding PDFs.

Academics: How do you keep up to date with articles in your field?

Using Zotero PDF reader for notes and annotations

It’s not been good on the iPad for the past few years. Papers 3 used to be okay, but that was absorbed by ReadCube and what they spit out wasn’t the best.

  1. Review abstracts:
    • follow feeds of a given journal by either RSS feeds in Feedly or emails of tables of contents
    • click on links to abstracts which takes me to a web page in Safari and read them there
  2. Add abstracts of note to my library
    • I take notes in obsidian, but don’t save the abstracts
  3. Download PDFs
    • follow the convoluted process of downloading the articles via my institutional login (if they have the journal) and save in Dropbox
    • if not, I can ask for an interlibrary loan or I’m SOL

This process feels very 1996. I hope someone has a better way.

I have a pretty good process for much of this… except for the “feeds of journals” part. All of the journals I’ve subscribed to have terrible RSS feeds. What journals are you subscribing to that support RSS well?!

I’ve found it useful to batch this into different tasks in different contexts. I look for articles and add them to Zotero when I’m on my mac, marking the things I want to read with a to read tag. Later, when I’m ready to read, I do that on the iPad: open Zotero iOS, look for recent items with a tag, and start reading.

I take informal notes while reading on the iPad (mostly scribbling) and formalize them later in Obsidian on the mac. I’m sure there are more idealized & streamlined ways of doing this work, but I’ve never been able to get them to work for me in day-to-day practice. Instead, I’ve found it useful (and—most importantly—sustainable) to delegate certain tasks to certain spaces and contexts.


I would love to hear it! I’m struggling. I use pretty much only the iPad, though.

There are not a lot, in fact only two seem to work for me in Feedly. The rest come to my email (which isn’t too bad).

That’s probably the best way to do it, though I wish otherwise. My notes are all just in split view (article on one 75% side and drafts on the 25% other).

  • I have tried and am still sorta tryihg to use Zotero, but mostly it’s a giant PITA. Same for Bookends, EndNote and Mandaley. All require data contortions if I ever move to another reference manager. Having done that for work for many faculty, I am unwilling to attempt moving the data. The spreadsheet keeps the data fairly liquid.

  • I find references in email, my reading, some in RSS feeds from a few journals that I read in NetNewsWire, and from academic social networks.

  • I copy and paste in a Numbers spreadsheet on a sheet for things to check.

  • I find all the things. I store .pdfs in iCloud. I back them up by hand, rather than relying on TimeMachine because iCloud.

  • I read all the things. PDFs typically I read on my iPad in PDF Expert via iCloud or sometimes DropBox. I may make notes or highlights on the .pdf. I move the data from the temporary To Read sheet to the Things Read sheet, which has a field to field match so it’s easy to copy. I include the citation, tags, abstract, possibly one to three short quotations, maybe, and a note about my reading that often refers to other reading or possible future use, my reactions and comments, etc. If I think the article or book merits it, I take detailed notes in a text file, which goes into Obsidian, with a note to that effect in the spread sheet.

This is not sleek, not automated, but it’s very basic and surprisingly easy.


My approach depends on having DEVONthink 3 open on a Mac somewhere as a backend. Basically, add the feeds you want to DT3, let DT3 update the feeds throughout the day/week, sync the downloaded items to DEVONthink on the iPad, and read from there.

Once you’ve set up your feeds on the Mac, you should be able to interact with the items and do most basic actions from the iPad.


I wonder if the app called “Browzine” helps. I track all my academic journals there and from there select what to explore further and import into bookends. I think it has some degree of integration with Zotero, IIRC.



Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out!

1 Like

Browzine looks interesting- but sadly only for iOS. That’s a bummer.

Since these days there is no way one can keep up with one’s field there is no way to automate that either.
We are drowning in material, citations, journals of varying quality, research and on and on.
The best one can do it seems to me is something like the strategy outlined by @Medievalist ; stated cogently and well.
I found the same strategy really, now through the medium of DEVONthink 3. The most important paper I ever read was, at the time, well outside my field. There is no way one can automate that kind of serendipity, instinct and judgement.


This is the answer. It aggregates all journals, has badges for new releases. Use this as your check out abstract app, then directly supports Zotero (put in login and send to Zotero) and the full pdf and article details show up in Zotero.

The app Read by QxMD has more of a scroll threw style (a bit easier to read abstracts, but I don’t like how it clears all badges even if you didn’t scroll through all the new content), and then same idea send to Zotero.

Both work very well. Highlight in Zotero, and then when back on desktop can always pull out to obsidian/etc annotations if you want.

Browzine is new to me. Will check it out, thanks!

BrowZine is new to me too. Just tried it and it looks fantastic - already added a bunch of the major theology journals. Zotero integration seems good. Thanks!

I also use Reflow app on my phone to read the PDFs when I don’t have my iPad around.

My academic institution isn’t in their list, so it becomes less useful. I can only see the open source journals.

Though this discussion reminded me of a program called Read by QxMD that allows me to subscribe to journals, read the abstracts and pulls the PDF’s for journals that my institution subscribes to. I think this may be iOS only, but looks like it’ll run on M1 Macs.

1 Like

As a family physician I am following several sources of research that publish every 1-4 weeks including American Family Physician, JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, Annals of Family Medicine, The Medical Letter, and Journal Watch for the occasional specialty article or BMJ and Lancet article.

I do all of this work on iOS using mainly my iPhone and sometimes with my iPad. The iPhone is my device of choice because with 4 young children at home it’s difficult to get dedicated time alone in front of the computer. With my iPhone I can collect, organize, and review articles while I’m giving the baby a bottle or rocking her to sleep, waiting for water to boil while I’m cooking dinner, waiting in line at the grocery store, or waiting at the after-school car pickup line.

Email is the lynchpin of this workflow with the help of DEVONthink to go and Highlights. Most every journal I’m subscribed to provides an emailed table of contents with each issue. I review the emails as they come in, tap on the articles I want to read and save, convert them to PDF from the websites using Safari, and share to DEVONthink inboxes. Moving to DEVONthink I apply tags and categorize appropriately. Then I can move to Highlights which can browse my DEVONthink databases directly and provide me a place to highlight and take notes which auto save back to the documents in DEVONthink.

Once run through this workflow I have searchable and annotated PDFs in DEVONthink at the point of care that I can refer to quickly when needed. I wish I would have had something like this when I was in med school, and particularly in residency when I was in the hospital and frequently came across rare conditions I had to research on the fly. Life would have been much easier and my pockets less full of paper. I’m excited to see what lies ahead to make this workflow even better…


I still subscribe to which delivers TOCs and direct links straight to your email inbox. It’s ok. It’s doesn’t do anything for speeding up workflow and as a Zoterro/Devonthink user, mine is like @timlockridge describes, different tasks for different pockets of time.

Mostly I also have a long list of RSS feeds followed in a dedicated database in DT on Mac, but as noted, the quality of information that comes through there is variable (title only / title and abstract / abstract but no indication of author/ etc). Then, I tend to duplicate things I want to read in DT to a special ‘To Read’ folder; and from there, I STILL need somehow to get the PDF linked from the RSS item into DT some way (paywall restrictions mean it is easier to do this once I am on my institutional network). So it’s purely a way of staying abreast of what is published, without any ‘one-click’ solution to get it all into my preferred reading setups.

I guess this cuts down on the number of things I actually save and then never have time to read anyway!

I’ve not used Zotero on iPad yet and have never heard of Browzine which I’ll play with soon, thanks for the tip.


Oh, yeah. If I had had Scrivener and DevonThink for my diss, it’d have been really helpful.