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Papers 2 (for Mac) review


  • Inviting interface
  • Integrated web and repository search
  • Superb citation tool


  • No cloud backup
  • Glitches bedevil Livfe social network
  • Citation tool requires Visual Basic

When I first started using Papers, I could not stop calling it Pages – a mistake I made even on a call with the Mekentosj team. They took it in stride, but I can understand why Mekentosj developers might bristle at the confusion. As document management software, Papers 2 is more a sibling to Mendeley, and second cousin (at best) to iWork. Yet their not dissimilar names do highlight a similarity: From a pop-up system-wide Citation search to a Match to Repository tool replete with visual and sound effects, Papers 2 feels a lot like an Apple application. Papers even transplants an iTunes feature (Smart Playlists) as a means of organising research (Smart Collections).

Yet, as with many of Apple's early forays, Papers has its limitations. I had trouble accessing Paper's Livfe social network, getting its Citation tool to work with my word processor, and finding all its features (such as Match to Repository). Import capabilities are also minimalistic, meaning that researchers who rely on Mendeley or Zotero will have to manually export their libraries as BibTeX or RIS files.

Furthermore, unlike Mendeley or Zotero, which offer free cloud-based backup, Papers tethers you to a desktop – unless you want to buy the iOS app (£10.49) with which you can manually sync your library to your iPhone or iPad. For some researchers, particularly early adopters of Zotero, Papers may not warrant another look. However, for those just beginning to organise research, Paper's integrated repository search and Apple-style aesthetics make document management a little bit friendlier.

A fresh start

Papers assumes you are new to document management. It invites you to add a photo, edit your title, and select your research interests from a rather dizzying array of choices. From there, Papers will fetch your papers from the likes of Google Scholar, Google Books, and Wikipedia. Curiously, this search never extends to your files, underscoring a contradiction: Despite its localisation – one license, one desktop – Papers seems more interested in the web than your desktop.

At launch, Papers does not ask you to import an existing research library. Instead, you have to manually import existing libraries. Support is somewhat patchy. While Papers imports directly from EndNote, other libraries require a more circuitous path. For example, I had to export and import my Zotero library as BibTeX; along the way I lost my folders, leaving me with 289 unsorted books and articles.

Given the popularity of Zotero amongst academic researchers, I hope that Papers comes to embrace something along the lines of Mendeley’s Zotero synchronisation.

Nod to Apple

Once your library is up and running, however, there is much to like about Papers. Although the interface is structured similarly to Mendeley and Zotero, as I’ve already mentioned, Papers looks like an Apple product. Discreet notifications highlight new features, and a sophisticated search function prowls metadata and notes. A nicely parsed navigation sidebar tags every function with a colourful and evocative icon, too. Papers even supports Cover Flow (though, alas, not Columns).

On the other hand, not unlike an Apple application, Papers errs on the side of omission. One feature, Match to Repository, allows you to search the web for relevant document metadata; it works reasonably well, and does so with visual aplomb (simulating a document scan), yet Papers hides the feature in the menu bar. And despite supplying inviting buttons at the bottom of each window, they aren’t contextual. For example, when I wanted to add a conference to my conference pane, I clicked the "+" button; instead of allowing me to add a new conference (which is buried in File/New/Conference), Papers prompted me to create a new collection.

Collections and more

The approach Papers takes to folders, Collections, deserves commendation. Although you can create a traditional folder hierarchy for your research project (Manual Collection), Papers also lets you share folder metadata (Livfe Collections, to which I'll return shortly) or create a dynamic folder around a set of criteria (Smart Collections, inspired by iTunes Playlists). I found the latter particularly useful because I could create Collections to track particular scholars, keywords, and dates.

Papers also takes some of the best features of its kin and augments them. For example, Mendeley allows you to read and annotate PDFs using a tabbed interface; Papers replicates this feature, and allows you to add other media, such as PowerPoint presentations. Zotero lets you save search results from your browser to your library. Papers offers a bookmarklet with similar functionality – however, few will use it because Papers integrates web repository search in the application. It is not comprehensive, but with support for JSTOR, Google Books, and Google Scholar, even researchers in the humanities may find themselves working from the application.

Papers Livfe

Papers' user base is concentrated in the sciences, a fact that proves significant in their ill-named social network which looks like a typo: Papers Livfe. Through Livfe, you can join groups and access paper metadata. To experience Livfe's social scene, I joined the most popular collection ("Young Guns"). The long and short of the social media side: This party has not started yet. What activity there is concentrates on bio-medical science. Generalised threads, such as the "Research Methods," barely have a pulse; at the time of writing, that collection had 11 members and two articles.

Part of the reason for this is that Livfe is glitchy. I had a hard time accessing the service. More often than not I encountered error messages, and when I did join a collection, the metadata never rendered. Given that Papers does not offer cloud-based backup, Livfe is the only way to share research. While it is a promising new venture, it is not yet where it needs to be.

System-wide citations

The centrepiece of the latest version of Papers is Citations – and with good reason. While I previously commended Zotero and Mendeley for their ability to export citations in a variety of different formats, Papers takes citations to another level with system-wide integration. With a quick keystroke, you can pull up a Papers search field, from which you can preview a source in your library (Quick Look), copy it to your clipboard, or add a citation in your word processor.

One thing to be aware of – and I found out the hard way – is that Papers relies upon Visual Basic to connect with Microsoft Word. Without it, however, you can simply copy citations to your clipboard and paste them into your document.


Papers sits near the top of its software category when it comes to its integrated web repository search, elegant citations, and inviting interface. But some striking omissions – a temperamental social network, un-social integration with other document managers, and non-existent cloud backup – knock it back to somewhere in the middle of the pack.

It is certainly cheaper than the flagship EndNote x6, but compared to competitors such as Zotero and Mendeley, both of which rely upon freemium models, Papers $79 (£52) price tag – $49 (£32) for students – looks somewhat pricey. Consider taking advantage of its 30-day trial period. Those new to document management may find themselves happy to overlook its limitations, and given the pace with which Papers is developing, those limitations aren’t likely to be present for long.