I don't get the advantage of using DevonThink

Hi all!

What’s the real advantage of using DevonThink against a mix of spotlight for my notes and PDFs and a bibliography software for research? I can’t cite form within Devonthink, so I also can’t really write a paper or similar from within Devonthink, most importantly I can’t get my references in a reasonable way in my writing.
I see that I can store PDFs, scans, websites and write notes in DevonThink - but I could as easily store them in a folder on my Mac, tag them and search for them with spotlight.

I am convinced there must be a cool advantage but have the feeling I’m missing it.

Would you please be so kind to point me somewhere where I can be enlightened?

Thanks and regards,


Your last post was 6 years ago, I’m curious: did you not use DEVONthink in the past years? I can hardly believe that one can’t find any advantage if one uses DEVONthink. :slight_smile:

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Indeed, you’re right. I used it and dismissed it, because of the same question I posted previously. I was a bit on-and-off and recently I was tempted to give to a other try, because Papers, my favorite bibliography app, was changed to ReadCube on a subscription base.
I was always wondering how I could profit of DevonThink when I cannot reference documents in a way one would use on scientific writing. I imagine I’d have to write everything twice…

My time is scarce and I am hesitating to trow all of my documents, papers and references into DevonThink mats in order to “give it a try”. My hope was that someone of you prolific users could help me finding good arguments for another attempt.

Thanks for helping if you find the time!

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As you are a scientist, I am surprised you would be convinced without, apparently, any evidence.

I hope you take that comment tongue in cheek :slight_smile:

Short answer: much more powerful search (terms), smart groups & rules, automation using scripts. Easy reorganisation and/or duplication, interlinking documents, AI for collating documents. Compatibility with all formats I use. Availability on the go. Custom metadata (which also plays into automation). And that’s just off the top of my head.

DT is my one-stop solution to all things document. Finder and a tag or two couldn’t hold a candle to it on a good day :sunglasses:


Devonthink lets you link, group, tag, search, collect, and curate every type of file/document known to computing. That capability is light-years ahead of what the macOS finder or even most database apps can do. Plus it has custom metadata, scripting, and Smart Rules to customize and automate it further if that is not enough.


Thanks for all of your answers. That sounds really good and is what I believed to find from all I read about the app.
I just don’t know how to get my stuff out of there, for example when I write a paper or an article or a webpage and I want to reference my sources which are also stored in the app.
is there a way to handle that?

How would you do that for the same writing / references without Devonthink?

I write in either my LaTeX editor, word or pages. I insert citations from my reference manager, usually through a shortcut and in a form provided by and readable by the reference manager. After I’m done I let the reference manager run through the text and print the actual citations from the inserted references to a specified location in the file.

I would like to write inside DEVONthink, but how can I cite files stored in DEVONthink and later list the as bibliography?

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Why not? :thinking:
I write in DEVONthink every day and have for years.


If one „writes in either my LaTeX editor, word or pages.“ then DEVONthink might not be a good alternative.

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The question I’m asking myself is: how would I reference data outside DEVONthink that I sie invade DEVONthink? I’m not sure if I was able to explain my issue…

If by “reference” you mean an academic reference in a paper you write, then that is not really a software question.

If by “reference” you mean how would you link an item in Devonthink to some other Mac application, then answer is via an “Item Link” or “x-devonthink” link created in Devonthink.

If you mean that you want to include content or metadata from Devonthink automatically/programmatically in a new document you author to share with others, then I would suggest a combination of Devonthink and Tinderbox. Tinderbox is great for using programmatic templates to export HTML documents; it works well with Devonthink but is not a replacement for Devonthink.


Having a first experience with Zotero (helping my wife in her academic writing process) with Word, I can easily see how DEVONthink does not do what Zotero and Word do together. I presume the other citation manager applications are similiar.

Yes, there are overlaps in that Zotero and DEVONthink stores documents and information about documents, but far as I know won’t help with making the writing of the paper and making citations and bibliography easier as Zotero does. And yes, probably some scripts can be developed to make it so. DEVONthink could even do something in the far future, perhaps. I notice that elsewhere on this forum people are posting things about Zotero and DEVONthink but to me is well too esoteric to go there in support of my wife who has no time for anything related to learning how to use the computer in a better way.

So yes, for you DEVONthink may not be a good fit at this time if you really want the automation that a citation manager helps with writing.

FYI, when I do a paper that will be written and published with LaTeX for final PDF, I do it all in Scrivener. In my world I don’t have to mess with strict rules about citations so I collect all the reference documents, and notes about the content in those documents, in DEVONthink Groups and Smart Groups. DEVONthink lives on 1/2 the monitor, and Scrivener is on the other 1/2. At that point I forget about the software and get on with the project.


Tank you all for your answers! Especially @rmschne rmschne’s, @rkaplan rkaplan’s und @BLUEFROG BLUEFROG’s answers have been helpful.
I have noticed that DevonThink can insert links to a reference form inside DevonThink. When I copy that RTF text/not from DevonThink to another app I still can click the link to the reference and it will open in a new DevonThink window. That is pretty cool… I think I will really give to a try and continue to play around with DevonThink.
Are there other examples of academic workflows within DEvonZThink?

Best regards,

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If you want some more capability integrating Zotero with Devonthink you may wish to look here:

I think if you do some internet searches you will find some published articles by academically-orientated people on this topic.

My use case is different from yours, so this suggestion may or may ne be helpful: Hook can be used to link documents from different sources and plays with both DEVONthink (DT) and Zotero, for example. (EDIT: It is not ideal for linking more than two documents within DT with one another (because it then links the files (in Finder) rather than the document URLs from the database), so using a link sheet or annotation with links is probably more useful for that task. linking multiple documents within DT now works as it should, tested with v2.2.1)

And do use the search function in this forum to look for „Zotero“; there are numerous ppl using Zotero and DT together.

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One last point or question rather: Several post mention the combination other apps such as Zotero or Hook, I myself am using Papers3.
What could be the advantage off using two reference apps (im my case DevonThink and Papers3) instead of one only? Doesn’t that have a bit redundancy? I was looking for replacing several alls for one only, and that should be Devonthink…

Thanks, Michael