Docear — Literature Management and Writing with Mind Maps

Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Kurt wrote me a comment about docear, a software that integrates a PDF reader (with annotations) with a Mind Mapping tool. And the software really integrates them, like reading the annotations/highlights and making them available in the Mind Map. The following video gives a good introduction:

Whereas annotations and comments in PDFs are nothing special, I really love the way the highlighted sections and comments can be automatically extracted from the PDFs. This is something where many literature management tools are lacking: I can annotate or highlight in my PDFs, but I want more … I want the text available outside of the document. And looking from the video, docear can give you this. Likewise, using Mind Maps for writing is an interesting idea (cf. this posting about writing articles with Mind Maps).

However, I am not so sure whether the approach be docear does scale to literature management. A Mind Map is a hierarchical structure, and in many cases, one might want to put one paper in different sections or categories. One reason why I use DEVONthink and tags for my literature. Likewise I want to be flexible in the way I work and use Circus Ponies and Scrivener for writing. Also, I am unsure whether I would trust my literature to one software, also I expect that the PDFs are annotated in the files itself and can be exported — and thereby still be used without the program.

But it looks like an interesting idea if this is the way you want to work. If Mind Maps are your way to work, why not use a program that combines your literature management software and your Mind Map for writing in one package? However, what I can say about the software is limited, as I do not have the time for an in-depth testing at the moment. If I had, I’d make sure that my PDFs can be exported (with annotations/highlights) and use a naming scheme like author_year.pdf or author_author_…_year.pdf to make sure I can leave the software if I need to, then give it a try.

So, what are your experiences with it? Would you try docear?


  1. Yes, I am playing with this software; seems very promising, specially the fact that it integrates Jabref(the best bibiography management) into it. Extracting the annotations is also a great idea. But, the implementation of the latter is not so satisfactory yet. It misplaces the annotations.
    —By the way, if you want your annotations extracted, you don’t need any additional software; both acrobat and PDF-Xchange can do it….the latter even more elegantly.

  2. I am trying to use docear in combination with ipad. but docear wont recognice the highlights, as most of the ipad pdf readers doesnt copy the highlight directly into text.

    Any suggestions there? thank you!

  3. Docear is a solid piece of software and excellent if you want to bring the power of relational mapping to pulling the best parts of the best literature into a formatted pre-document. Most of you concerns are unfounded; however “Docear does [not] scale to literature management”. Mismarketing into the literature manager category misses its real strength, and puts it up against Zotero and Mendeley. While I am very happy with JabRef (which is what Docear uses) for my own work, Docear is really in its own category IMHO and should develop and market its obvious strength. Its fetching and extracting of PDF metadata is also great features.

  4. Thank you for your comment … and hmm, good point that the category we put something into affects how it’s rated. I’ll probably not use Docear (got my own combination of software), but it might be an option for others. Thanks 🙂

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