The analyses had been run (and re-run), QC was finished, and the only thing left to do was somehow corral all that work into a paper. With that realization, Alice had a vivid flashback to her last collaborative paper:


She shuddered and opened her Google Drive. In addition to starting a new document for the paper, Alice added folders with supplementary information, the figures and tables, and supporting info like the live To Do list. With the last project, the first 10 minutes of every weekly project catch-up meeting had been devoted to her boss, Bruce, trawling for the newest figures and most up-to-date version of the sample table. Typically this resulted in Bruce apologizing, “I know you emailed this to me two hours ago, but would you mind sending it again?” Now the meeting began in one step: open the Drive folder that had everything stored up to date; any edits made in the meeting were automagically part of the permanent record.

As the draft of the paper matured, Bruce could edit and comment on the document whenever he had a chance to look at it, and Alice could keep working on her own schedule. When she needed clarification on some comment she could reply right in the document:


She took great pleasure in clicking “Resolve” once these suggestions were dealt with.

The manuscript was looking good, and it was time for Alice to send the link to all the coauthors asking for feedback. First to weigh in were the teleconference lurkers, who opened the link straight away. Most of their changes were quickly incorporated, and Alice was saved from having ten emails pointing out that she had misspelled ‘quantititive’. While incorporating some of these suggestions, Alice decided to swap two paragraphs in the manuscript, but accidentally deleted one of them, a consequence of too little coffee in the morning. She carried on working without noticing. When she spotted the loss, she was spared 200 Ctrl+Z’s, as she pulled the paragraph back from the revision history without interfering with the changes she had made since the mistake.

Alice could sense she was near the finish line as she sat down to do the referencing. But even this proved to be a bigger pain than expected: her collaborators had entered citations in a complete mish-mash of formats, ranging from random PubMed IDs through the old reliable [Author, Year], to what she was pretty sure was somebody’s copy-and-pasted homebrew bibTeX keys. She sighed as she highlighted the first mystery citation, ready to spend another few hours trying to hunt down all the right papers. Fetching the right one off Google, she pulled up Paperpile and clicked insert citation – only to find the paper was already there! Through some magic, Paperpile had looked up the words she highlighted, and found the precisely the right paper:


Hmmm, that one was a paper she’d never even heard of! Clicking on her newly inserted citation, Alice brought up the paper that was now tucked away in her Paperpile library. The abstract was already available for a quick read, and the full PDF version had been auto-downloaded for her to go through later. Easy!


For Alice, the future of collaborative science writing had finally arrived. Now the only thing left to do was convince the journals to accept a direct submission of the Google Drive link!


  1. Kaur Alasoo

    Google Docs + Paperpile is definitely better than anything else out there, but after writing my whole PhD thesis in it I’ve had three independent occasions when formatting Paperpile reference has led to whole a paragraph of text becoming scrambled. Curiously you can’t revert back the changes, because revision history becomes scrambled as well. Last time I had to go back to the Word version that I had downloaded earlier to recover the text. I don’t really understand when it happens and how to reproduce it.