Trying Sente instead of Papers. Two annoying setbacks.

Following the disappointments with the recent version of Papers I am trying Sente 6, a competing reference and pdf management software. The initial impression is unfortunately not very good.

First, I wanted to email two references to a colleague. Papers can do this through a menu item, a right-click, and a keyboard shortcut ( ⌥⌘E). Any of these create an email message with the subject line containing the author, year and title, the bibliographic reference as the body, and the pdf file as the attachment. All you need to do is to type the recipient’s name. With Sente, I spent 15 minutes combing its User Manual and then searching the Internet for tips, before giving up and locating the PDFs in Finder to send. Am I missing something?

Second, I wanted to set up a workflow for automatically adding PDFs to my Sente library. I used to simply assign the “papers” tag to a file saved to the Downloads folder and then had Hazel automatically open it with Papers. Later versions of Papers also can automatically import all files added to a specific folder without even using Hazel. It turns out one cannot simply “open” file with Sente, so a simple Hazel rule is not an option. The fastest way seems to be to manually drag the PDFs to the “All References” collection in Sente. Disruptive.

So I am still cautiously trying to Sente but still hoping that Papers will come back with all its strengths.

About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
This entry was posted in Automation, Bibliographies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Trying Sente instead of Papers. Two annoying setbacks.

  1. Jay says:

    Sente doesn’t center PDFs in the display window. Instead the PDF is left-aligned. On large display monitors this is aggravating.

    That was my deal-breaker.

    Papers 2 continues to be my reluctant compromise.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. While the current version of Papers has MANY issues, I still haven’t found anything that works better for me. The points you raised are a fairly good example.
    I also rely heavily on syncing the library (including the PDFs) between computers and devices and right now, none of the other apps really suited my needs in this respect.

    I also really hope Papers will (soon) get in a better shape since I haven’f found any viable alternative yet.


  3. Chris says:

    Check out Eaglefiler by c-command software. Highly customizable, scriptable and non proprietory.


  4. Thierry says:

    Did you try Bookend ? For me it is the most efficient on a Mac


  5. I tried Papers quite some time ago and found it to be just too much. I wanted something simpler and went with Sente. As far as I know, it is true that you can not send an individual file straight to email without exporting or going to the finder. Not a big deal for me. But the idea behind Sente is that you can share entire libraries that are kept in the cloud. Also, you can open files directly into Sente. You can also set the preferences to delete the old file once its been uploaded. If I’m understanding you correctly, this would make the whole Hazel thing redundant. Sente certainly has some drawbacks, but it keeps things simple.


  6. Paul says:

    Try Bookends!


  7. James Rudd says:

    I’m in the same position. I’m leaning towards Bookends. But I’ll stick with Papers 2 until it no longer is supported.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Chris says:

    I switched to Sente since I gave up on Papers and I have had a pretty positive experience (so far). The biggest thing for me is the annotation workflow. Rob Trew’s export to devonthink script ties it all together for me. Quotes (with page numbers) and comments are in nice individual rtf files I can drag over to scrivener from devonthink for writing. Syncing with the ipad app is flawless (so far). I never noticed the lack of an email function in the desktop app (until I read your post), but I’ve used the function on the ipad app several times and it works wonderfully. But again, the number one selling point for me, overall, is the annotation workflow. It helps me get everything I need out of an article the first time without having to go back to scroll through and find highlights or figure out what page a quote or comment is on.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Frank says:

    Have you tried Bookends? At least it can do those two thing you wanted Sente to do.


  10. Dellu says:

    Personally, emailing a reference and a PDF is the last feature I want see in a reference manager. it is just irrelevant for me. i can email the pdf via finder if I have to. it happens once in a month or so. I don’t care about it. But, your second point is good one. Being able to add references automatically using Hazel would have been a great feature. We have been requesting that feature for a while.

    I encourage you to stick with Sente for a while; get used to the Quick tags, the status and the ipad app; I am sure you will ultimately love it. The annotation feature and the exporting script (the OMPL format) work flawlessly with Scrivener’s Cockboard. Check out this video to learn about it.


  11. Joe says:

    The iPad app for Sente allows you to send an attachment rather easily. Unfortunately, I think you can only send one at a time. You don’t have to use Finder on OS X. You can export the PDF (click on the top of the PDF plane to get option) to, say, the desktop (with or without highlights). Haven’t figured out whether you can email directly from within the app.

    One of these days I’m going to sit down with Keyboard Maestro and see whether I can create a macro that automates the importing of PDFs into Sente. I think it should be possible, but I haven’t had time to figure to play with it.


  12. Have you thought about using Zotero? It works fine for me and plays nicely with my iPad. The chief rub the challenge of getting it to work smoothly with Scrivener. But there are worksarounds for that.


  13. naupaka says:

    Nthing Bookends. Plus, applescript support..


  14. Graham Hill says:

    I have wanted to like Papers, but to be honest the disruptive upgrade process is a huge barrier to me, the transition between version 1 and 2 is a classic example of product release management failure, and one that was repeated with the release of version 3. In both version 1 and 2, I managed to loose references for inexplicable reasons.

    I work in the humanities and find the transfer of information between EndNote and and Papers to be problematic, take for example the issue of translator information. This information gets silently moved from translator into the author field in Papers. Ultimately I can not rely on the information in Papers for citation purposes and that is a problem when working in collaboration with others.

    I have found Sente to be totally reliable in its day to day operation, I have never lost anything using from its database since 2010, and find a lot to commend, especially its reliability, its synchronization, and its annotation facilities. Where Sente really fails is in its support.

    I have tried BookEnds, and find much to commend, but ultimately I find myself relying on Sente. Bookends has great support, but its feature set lags a little behind the rest of the field when it comes to functionality. BookEnds support is out of this world, and SunnySoftware remains my hope for the future of a truly excellent citation, pdf file management and annotation system.

    For what its worth, in my current workflows I keep all of my references in Sente, creating a quicktag group that represents each of my writing projects, and ultimately export the references in that tag group to EndNote for use in writing projects.

    Sente is far from perfect, but is the best that I have found.


  15. frh2106 says:

    In my opinion Sente is far superior to Papers. I have up on it for many reasons. I’ll be posting more on a series in Sente. But check this out for now, if interested.


    • Neal says:

      frh2106, could you explain why Sente is better with comparison to Papers? You linked blog post only describes Sente and does not compare to Papers.


  16. James says:

    Bookends do exactly the things you are missing from Papers that Sente does not provide, these were the same reasons for me omitting Sente and choosing Bookends and I have never regretted. I left Papers long time ago. In my opinion Bookends is far superior to Sente.


    • ruhalwala says:

      Hello all, I’m a MSc student currently working on my thesis, and I’m just doing some research on the best reference management software out there. I have the free version of Papers3 installed right now, but I’ve been reading that Sente or Bookends might be a better option. If I am going to shell out $79 for Papers I want to ensure that it’ll be worth every cent. I was wondering if anyone could let me know what features Sente or Bookends has that outshine Papers.


  17. Neal says:

    Why not just revert to Papers 2 until version 3 is ironed out? Papers 2 still does everything it used to do. You have to be careful with syncing with Dropbox, but it does work.


  18. Lior says:

    I have up and went back to papers2 (and i was a beta tester for papers 3). it’s a shame they don’t update what is going on with papers3. What is changing with each release and etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Alexis says:

    I have been using Sente now for about a year. Before that I used Zotero, while looking at other options. Sente’s ease of citation, its flexibility with organising and annotating references, and the fact that it syncs beautifully across all of my devices is a big plus for me.


  20. Joe says:

    Great blog Aleh – wondering if you might consider a review of the new Bookends update 12.2 with better pdf management.


  21. I’ve tried this move several times.
    Papers is getting better and support is also working much better.

    But this post made me try again:

    The annotation feature of sente and this “plug-in”, called Sente Assistant, is just amazing!

    It runs on the web browser and is capable of retrieving all highlighted text and comments from the pdf. OK until now, every app does that. But the magic comes with the possibility to create and manage tags for each quote or comment of the pdf. It can show a page filtered by this tags.

    Just an example of this great workflow potential:
    1) Read a paper, highlight text on the ipad with comments for each paragraph if needed. I can highlight the primary outcome results and give a @results_primary_outcome (Francis Hittinger uses $$text$$ in his workflow) and I can make some personal comments on this highlighted text.
    2) I can do the same for several other pdfs on my library
    3) I can open the Sente Assistant and sort the selected pdfs or the whole library by tags. Sente assistant let you choose which atribute you used (@ or $$text$$ or ##, ie).
    4) It will sort all the articles by this tags. I can have 20 articles that were tagged with @results_primary_outcome in the same page and if I click the link it will open the pdf in Sente.

    I’ve written some published articles using this method previously and all I can say is that it is life changing! Mainly for discussion sections and literature reviews, where you might struggle with several references and keeps opening and searching for each highlighted text.
    It is something I’ve been trying to create for years and really struggled until now. It is a evolution of a concept that I first read at Stian blog ( I was creating a complex workflow with papers, keyboard maestro, folding text, editorial for ipad, skim, devonthink and evernote to create what this “plug-in” does very easily.

    I’m really excited to try Sente again!


  22. Derek from Columbia Univ says:

    Just wanted to say thank you to you, Aleh, and all the thoughtful commenters on your blog for helping me make initial design decisions on my own academic workflow. I’m following your lead!


  23. Vinny Troia says:

    Why haven’t you tried Endnote X7 yet? I went through this same struggle of finding the “right” software but none are great. Endnote 7 was more difficult to learn, but ultimately the one i stuck with.


  24. ElArteDePerder says:

    Bookends has the ugliest icon you could imagine. I cannot/will not use an application with such an ugly icon.
    Sente 6, on the other hand has been a godsend for me. It’s reliable, simple to use and powerful enough for what I need. It dones not have as much stupid crap as papers does (hello, papers Livfe), and.. did I say it was reliable?.
    Papers 1 to 2 transition was a nightmare for the the users. You’d think that they would have learned from that experience, but they repeated the mistake in the 2 to 3 upgrade, while charging a ton of money for a flawed beta version with far less functionality that the earlier version!. Moreover, customer support is disgraceful and opaque.
    I tried most of the alternatives, Mendeley is almost OK, but I need to see the pdf first page while I scan the library, and it does not have that option. EndNote is crazy expensive for what it offers (not that much different from the cheaper alternatives), BibDesk is too 80s for me, but if you use LaTex it’d be OK. ReadCube is nice, and has excellent sync capabilities, but it’s not there yet.
    For me, right now Sente 6 has it all.


  25. Robin Lee says:

    I am surprised there has been no mention of Mendeley in this discussion. Has anyone tried Mendeley and compared it to Sente or Paper?


  26. I use Sente already for several years and am very satisfied with the application. I use Sente as the central hub for my research whenever it is possible I import documents into Sente (though it only can import pdfs), read, annotate and comment the papers right there, later using the app to manage my references in papers. One of the best things in Sente is the ease by which one can get references into it. Not only you can get into specific libraries and get their records, set up automatic checking so that references arrive whenever a new record appears in the library, but also you can simply browse internet. Thsi is done via Sente’s own browser window. For many sites like JSTOR or Ebsco Sente finds references and ads a small icon next to it, clicking on it imports the citation. If you download or open pdf in JSTOR (and other such sites) sente automatically offers to import the whole thing along with pdf and citation info. Same thing happens when you drag and drop a pdf into it. In short – it’s hard to imagine an easier way of getting a reference info into an application. I also mostly love annotation and commenting feature which makes the whole process very straigh-forward and easy (only difficulty is organising notes in the sequence they appear on the page). Sending citation files and pdfs to colleagues has never been a priority to me. Dragging and dropping a blibliography info and then attaching a file from finder is rather easy.

    Recently for various reasons I have been checking some other software. First I looked at EndNote and was not impressed: seemed rather clumsy, importing files – difficult and restrictive. Quote as you write feature via a dedicated toolbar in Word seems quite impressive though. But annotating a pdf – quite clumsy again.

    Upon reading this post I also tried Papers3. It looks much better than EndNote, some features are great (like citing via the Magic tool). However, getting a reference into the system seemed much less effortless if compared with Sente, annotating a pdf also works in a more complicated manner. However, what is the biggest drawback is that there is no way of creating custom styles (at least this is what I get from help info). The CSL styles that Papers rely on are often buggy and if one cannot make adjustments, it’s a pain. Sente has a large number of in-built styles, can import CSL, but none system usually works for my specific needs. Sente allows for creating a style in a comparatively simple manner (only needs patience). It seems though that EndNote custom style creating is the esasiest of all.

    A big drawback for Sente is that it is only for Mac while Papers and Endnote – both for Mac and Windows. For those who want to try out – all offer free trial versions, but the latest Stente provides a free version wich does not expire, just has limited space for references and attachments.

    So my conclusion – although I was charmed by some features, I don’t see a need to switch to Papers, so far Sente is best for me and I would recommend it to others as well. Though support is often slow and selective on which problems to tackle.


    • update: it seems there is a possibility to edit styles from within Papers (as an experimental feature). Not particularly easy to use but Sente does not stand here on a much better ground. It might be that with sufficient time on hands one can learn how to use the feature and modify styles according to the needs


    • Aleh Cherp says:

      Interesting, when I tried Sente I abandoned it precisely because it was not easy to get references into it. I mostly get references into Papers 3 by saving pdfs into a specific folder – then Papers automatically imports everything there. This workflow is important for me because when I save a file I can also tag it with OS X (formerly OpenMeta) tags. Thus I can find my pdf not only from within Papers but generally through Finder.


      • In sente you don’t need to save pdfs into a folder. if the file is saved anywhere on the computer, you can drag it to Sente and it automatically opens an “add reference” dialogue which has access to various sources (like world cat) which helps you getting the ref automatically or fetches it automtaically if it can find it. After that, the file is renamed in author-date style and saved to a dedicated folder (concealed by default, but actually accessible). Alternatively I often browse databases (like Jstor or Ebsco) using the Sente’s built-in browser which automatically again looks for possible references on the displayed pages, checks whether the ref is already in Sente collection and displays a small button-icon next to it. Then the importing is just by pressing the button right in the browser. Perhaps sounds complicated but in fact it is really very easy.


      • Aleh Cherp says:

        The dragging was precisely what I could not accept. I prefer not to reach for my mouse in such frequent operations that should be automatic and take zero of your brain power.


      • Joe says:

        I keep meaning to see if I could use Keyboard Maestro to automate the process of getting a file from a folder into Sente but never seem to find the time to try it


      • Aleh Cherp says:

        Yes, I tried Hazel, but it would not work, because you can’t “open” a file with Sente.


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