Folders vs. labels--best practices for when to use?

I tend to put articles in folders and not use labels too much. But I know you can color code the labels and they might be more versatile. Can folks explain how they use labels vs. folders and give me an idea of best practices on their use? Thanks in advance.


Having too many labels cause the “Show more” link to appear and for some of them to be collapsed, so I keep exactly7 labels. Also, folders can have subfolders while labels cannot have sublabels.

Thank you, Harsh.

We designed the label/folder system quite flexible so it’s a matter of personal preferences how to use them. Would also be interesting for us to learn more how users use labels vs folders.

We had a blog post a while ago about labels. There might be some features of labels in there which you have not tried:

Thank you, Stefan. This is helpful and I appreciate the link to the blog. Good info!

Is there any chance that a feature will be added that we can have different color folders, like we can have different color labels?

There is a separate thread on that here. We are thinking about it:

here’s one way I use folders - to incorporate all the research I’m considering / reading for an article I’m writing. I always read more articles than I end up citing, so this folder includes more than the bibliography / references. As come across new papers, I think about how they will fit in my article, and put it in that folder.

Also, I format the subfolders in the same order and hierarchy as the flow of my article. So, the folders go something like this:
Argument 1
sub-argument 1a
sub-argument 1b
argument 2

As I’m writing, the papers I need to cite from are right there in the subfolder that matches the section I’m working on.

Once the article is completed, you could export the papers in the folders for a reading list.


Personally I use mostly labels, since they make looking for citations quick and easy by letting you search by multiple criteria. Looking for citations on the transpiration of urban trees? Search for “tree physiology” and “urban trees” labels. Want to narrow down the list to experimental studies? Add “experiment” label to the search criteria.

I believe labels also allow more flexibility - with folders, you need to decide early on what structure to use, and stick to it. In my case, I couldn’t think of a clear way to organize papers in my database using folders, as most papers are interdisciplinary or would thus belong in various folders. Using labels eliminates this problem.

The only use I have for folders at the moment is to gather citations for a specific paper, or to mark papers that I’m currently reading or planning to read.

My example: I work on urban climate and use around 30 labels. They are grouped (and formatted) by:

  • climate zone (e.g. temperate climate, Mediterranean climate) - orange labels
  • methodology (e.g. review, experiment, observation, GIS, modelling) - blue labels
  • subject (e.g. tree physiology, urban heat island, thermal comfort) - red labels
  • optional: focus on a specific part of green infrastructure (urban trees, urban parks, green roofs). - green labels

This way I can easily see if all necessary labels were added to a paper, but most of all, I can quickly search among my papers using multiple criteria. In fact, this was exactly the reason I migrated from EndNote to Paperpile :slight_smile:

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Hi, Is there a difference in the functionality of Labels versus Folders in terms of sharing behavior? What I mean: Labels are not (I presume) ever apparent beyond one’s own paperpile account, whereas folders can be shared (or not…)? So, for example, an entry in a shared folder, which is also tagged with some labels, won’t appear labeled to other users with whom it’s shared, right?

In your own library, labels and folders are essentially identical - a paper can have multiple folders as well as multiple labels. When you share a paper in a shared folder this organizational information is not shared - so your collaborators can neither see which labels you have applied, nor which folders you have organized it in. They can only see the name and structure of the shared folder.

thanks a lot for the helpful reply!

I use both folders and labels. The advantage of folders is that they can be arranged in a hierarchy and rearranged as thoughts evolve. The advantage of labels is that they’re quick. So I attach labels first to new articles, and then I put them in or take them out of folders depending on how they fit into what I’m working on.

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(For visibility) I have two feature requests related to labels and shared folders to improve interoperability and user experience.

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