Tools of the Trade: How to Automatically Import and Organize Your PDFs In Your Digital Library

Overview & Goal

The goal of this process is simple: set up a process where PDF documents that you download are automatically imported into citation software and organized for your review. This is helpful if-like me-a lot of your research information comes in the form of academic articles, NGO and government reports, legal filings, and other types of specialized information that tends to be circulated in PDF format. If you are interested in how I handle other types of more dynamic textual information (such as news articles and blog posts) or other types of media (including videos and audio files), let me know and I’ll share my approach to those things, too.

Preliminary Notes

Before we get into the process itself, I need to touch on a few key points to make sure we’re on the same page.

Academic Citation Workflow

The short version of this process is, we are going to set up a folder just of PDF documents we want to put into Endnote, tell Endnote to automatically import those documents, then also tell Endnote to pull out those documents for which Endnote was not able to automatically fill in citation details.

Pro Tip: I also automate PDF downloads and organization using some simple macros, and I also automate the emptying of my "Imported" folder by setting a simple macro to run once each week on Friday afternoon.

That’s All Folks

And that’s it! Once you set this up, you don’t have to manually import and organize new documents in your Endnote program or library. You now just have two manual touchpoints: making sure that you add your download documents to the Endnote imports folder every so often, and adding meta-data for documents that don’t have meta-data (which you would have to do anyway, but this just makes it easier to figure out which ones need your attention). I hope this was helpful and answers the few questions I received yesterday about this post.



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Austin Kocher, PhD

I study America’s immigration enforcement system. Assistant Professor at TRAC. Graduate of OSU Geography. Online at