By Drew Thomas |

Brace yourselves. You are about to discover one of the best tools for managing a large research project. It has features way beyond its better-marketed rivals, such as Zotero or Mendeley. Yet it has its drawbacks. In the end, you decide if this is best for you.

The programme is Qiqqa, pronounced ‘quicka’, as in a ‘quicker’ way to complete your PhD. It was first developed in 2009 by a scholar at the University of Cambridge who felt there wasn’t a reference manager fulfilling his needs. But Qiqqa is more than a reference manager, it is also a citation manager, a PDF reader, a research tool, and idea organiser. On top of that, it has some incredible features.

Qiqqa was founded on the premise that you should only have to read a journal article once. You should never have to go searching through a PDF again for that one good quote. And they make a pretty convincing argument.

Organise Your Research

Qiqqa organises your research better than any other programme on the market. It automatically imports your libraries from existing reference managers. You can also add ‘Vanilla references’—references for records you have no PDF for, such as a monograph or journal article from a footnote. If you don’t have all the bibliographic information, Qiqqa automatically populates the metadata via Google Scholar. It also automatically detects duplicate records to prevent you importing the same record twice.

What’s more, Qiqqa has amazing search features. You can apply your own tags to articles, but Qiqqa can also automatically tag your documents with relevant keywords. Even better, it supports hierarchical tags, as Qiqqa automatically OCRs your PDF documents, making text fully searchable. When you search for a term, the results show you how well the search result matches your search terms based on how often it is mentioned in the text. Moreover, you don’t have to search for a single term. Qiqqa has very advanced search and filtering capabilities, similar to a database query. It easily has the best search functions of any programme I’ve used.

Read and Annotate Articles

Organising and searching is fine, but at some point, you actually need to read the articles you’ve acquired. Qiqqa has a built in PDF reader, allowing you to read and annotate (in multiple colours!). It also uses tabs, so you can have multiple PDFs open at the same time. One feature I have yet to see elsewhere is the ability to tag your annotations within a document. You can use those tags across documents to better organise your research.

Beside the PDF, Qiqqa displays a word cloud to give you an idea of the main concepts in an article even before you start reading it. Additionally, you can mark the current stage of a document, such as: Top priority, Started reading, Interrupted, Unread, Read Again, Browsed, Interest Only, Skimmed, and Finished Reading. I love this feature, as I often have difficulty remembering if I’ve read an article or not.

The PDF reader’s best feature is the ability to generate annotation reports. When you annotate an article, Qiqqa will generate a report with only the sentences you highlighted and the notes you made. You can also choose to include the paragraph the quote was in, so as not to lose the context. This is why Qiqqa advertises you only need to read an article once. After you’ve read it, your annotation report should help you so you never after spend time rereading the information not pertinent to your research.

Discover New Research

Not sure where to turn next? Qiqqa has a number of features to assist in advancing your research. First off, it will automatically sort your library into themes so you can see how well your library covers your relevant subjects. Additionally, if you are reading a PDF it identifies articles in your library cited in the footnotes of that article. This is a really cool feature that helps you see how scholars in your field relate to each other. In addition to identifying related documents in your own library, it searches Google Scholar for related articles you might be unaware of.

To assist searching for new material, Qiqqa has a built in web browser that searches multiple academic search engines simultaneously. It also has a brainstorming feature where you can create mind maps of articles to find various patterns as you organise your arguments. I’ve never seen another programme that offers this. It really is amazing how Qiqqa allows you to not only organise and read your articles, but also further develop your thought.


How Much Does It Cost?

Free! Well, freemium. That seems to be the way to go these days. You can download the programme on your desktop or laptop and have unlimited storage. It works offline and you can use the mobile app. At this time they only have an Android version, so no iOS. They also have premium and premium plus options, which unlock additional features and pushes your online storage from 2 GB to 10 or 50 GB respectively. With their education pricing, the premium option is slightly over £2 per month, so very affordable. You can also get the premium subscription for free by referring others.

The Takeaway

So have I convinced you? Don’t worry, I have no affiliation with Qiqqa. In fact, I do think it has a few downsides. Firstly, I find it very frustrating there is no iOS mobile option. The ability to read and annotate articles on a tablet is a huge advantage. Additionally, the design and user interface is not very intuitive and appears outdated at times. However, their website has had a major redesign, so perhaps the app will too. They are always updating the app, but it’s usually on the software side, rather than the design.

I also think one only benefits from Qiqqa if they have a large PDF library. A lot of the features, such as identifying cross-references in your library, rely on this. This makes it an application better suited towards sciences, which often rely more on journal articles, whereas the humanities place a larger emphasis on monographs and collected volumes. Since Qiqqa relies on the presence of PDF files, as many of the features are dependent upon OCR, this is a drawback.

Regardless, Qiqqa has unique features, and most are available for free. So it’s well worth your consideration.

Drew Thomas is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews studying the Protestant Reformation and the History of the Book. Follow him on Twitter @DrewBThomas and Instagram @drewbt.


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