Backup and Organize Your Dissertation Research for Free Using Mendeley and Dropbox

One of the tools students have been most excited about during recent library orientation sessions is Mendeley, the (mostly) free citation management application.  Here are the steps to use Mendeley and Dropbox to securely and redundantly back up all your dissertatoin documents:
1.  On your computer, create a folder to hold the stuff.  Name it something you’ll remember, and store it in a place you find convenient yet unobtrusive.  You’re going to be dumping all your stuff into it – articles you find, as well as your dissertation manuscript(s) – and you won’t be able to (easily) move the folder to another location later, so make sure you get it right to start with.  On Windows, I recommend creating a folder named Dissertation, in the My Documents folder.

2.  Install Dropbox by downloading it from   Once you have it installed, you have to tell it what folder you want it to watch; in the example above that would be the Dissertations folder.  This is done by rightclicking the Dropbox icon and choosing Preferences:

Under “Dropbox Folder Location” click the Move button and then navigate to the Dissertation folder you created.  Then click OK to set this as the folder Dropbox will back up.  We are now done with Dropbox; it will run automatically every time your computer starts up, and it will create a copy on the Internet of everything you put into its folder.  You’ll be able to log in to the Dropbox website anytime, from any computer, and have access to the documents in the Dissertations folder – even if the computer you originally installed Dropbox on is lost, stolen, or spontaneously explodes.

3.  Get Mendeley.  Go to and sign up for a free online account.  Then download the desktop application appropriate for your preferred operating system.  After downloading the desktop application, install it and then hit the button that says Sync Library.  You will be prompted to provide the username and password for the Mendeley online account you created earlier; enter it.  Now, every time you add documents to the Mendeley library on your computer, when you hit Sync Library a copy of those documents and their citations will be stored in your online account as well.  We’re now ready for the last step: making sure that Mendeley stores all of its stuff in the same folder that Dropbox is automatically backing up.  This will ensure that all of your dissertation work is a.) stored and organized on your computer, b.) backed up on Mendeley, and c.) backed up *again* on Dropbox.

4.  In the Mendeley desktop application, choose Tools | Options and then select the tab called File Organizer.  Check the box that says Organize My Files, and beneath that where it says “Copy my files to:” click Browse and specify the Dissertation folder you created in step 1.

That’s it.  From now on just remember to use the Dissertation folder (or whatever you named it) to store all of the articles you find during your research, and the documents you create as you write your dissertation.  Be sure to also sync the Mendeley library each time you add content to it.  Mendeley gives you 500 MB free storage, with the option to purchase or earn more, and the free version of Dropbox allows you a whopping 2 GB.

Feel free to contact with questions about this process.

One Response to Backup and Organize Your Dissertation Research for Free Using Mendeley and Dropbox

  1. Liner says:

    Good example, I have set it up and see if it will be an integral part of my work flow, thanks!

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