Sunday, February 14, 2016

Usability Issues with Mendeley Desktop

By Philip Benjamin George


Managing hundreds or thousands of Digital papers can be cumbersome for students, researchers and writers [1]. Hence, using bibliographic software may be convenient for many. Bibliographic software helps users to organize, manage, share and collaborate references easily without hassle. One such popular bibliographic software in use today is Mendeley Desktop.

Mendeley Desktop is a free reference manager and academic social network [2]. It helps users to effectively manage research material, securely access them across devices, Read and Annotate on the Go, generate citations and bibliographies that are compatible with Microsoft Word, LibreOffice and BibTex [2]. It makes it convenient for users to share and collaborate reading materials by creating groups and receiving feedback from peers and reviewers [2].

Personally, Mendeley Desktop has been of huge help to me in my research. But I have come across some usability issues with the Mendeley Desktop, that I would like to share in this blog post.

Fig 1. Screenshot of Mendeley Desktop application

Usability Issues

Below are few usability issues that I have encountered when using Mendeley on Windows.

1.      Accessing a Document can be confusing

 When users wish to open a PDF from a folder in Windows using Mendeley Desktop, the application takes users to the ‘My Library’ page of the application, rather than opening up the PDF itself for viewing. Basically, the selected document is first added to Mendeley’s library, instead of opening right away for users to access. Users would then need to select the added document from a list in ‘My Library’ in order to view the document (list size depends on number of documents added to the Library).

This is also the case when the document already exists in Mendeley’s library, it takes users to the ‘My Library’ page and then users would have to search and select the document from a list.  Therefore accessing a document on Mendeley is far from a simple click, and takes more time than it should.

2.      Issues related with Zoom options

 One of the other usability issues I have come across is the absence of a Default Zoom option for document viewing. When a PDF is opened in the application, the zoom is automatically set to a higher level. So users would need to manually adjust the zoom to desired level for comfortable reading. For each PDF opened, the user would need to manually reset the zoom level according to their preference. Providing a Default Zoom level option would have been feasible in this case, similar to Adobe Reader.

 The zoom option also does not indicate the percentage of zoom e.g. 50%, 75%, 200% etc. There are no options to set custom Zoom level as well.

 Also when the Document details menu on the right is hidden, zoom level is increased, instead of being fixed, when it is not been explicitly set by the user.

3.      No message or Feedback when deleting a Document from library

When a user deletes a document from the Library, there is no message or dialog box which appears to warn the user about the action performed. Inadvertently pressing the delete button on keyboard may lead to deleting documents without the knowledge of the user.

4.      Tab Reorganization not possible

Mendeley organizes multiple PDF’s by opening Tabbed windows similar to a Web browser, which is a useful way of having access to multiple documents simultaneously. But unfortunately, these tabs are rigid and there is no way of reorganizing these tabs, by dragging, based on user’s preference [2].

5.      Page Display, Bookmarks and Thumbnail options not available

Mendeley, being a PDF organizer and reader, one would expect certain Page display functionality such as 2 page view, web page layouts etc. But such functionality is not available in Mendeley.

Functionality such as Bookmarks and Thumbnails, which are part of every most readers, are not available.

6.      Lack of Accessibility features

Accessibility features such as Read Aloud or Text to speech are not available, making it difficult for physically challenged people to use.

7.      No color variety for text highlighting

Users may require a variety of colors for highlighting text in a document, for various purposes. Mendeley provides only yellow for highlights.


Overall, my experience with Mendeley Desktop has been exceptional. I would say that it has so many positives compared to the few issues highlighted above. Though these are issues that need to be addressed, I personally feel Mendeley is an extremely user friendly application, which I would highly recommend.


[1]   Atiqah binti Zulkharnain, N.; Ashaari, N.S., "Usable bibliographic software," in Electrical Engineering and Informatics (ICEEI), 2015 International Conference on , vol., no., pp.439-444, 10-11Aug.2015
doi: 10.1109/ICEEI.2015.7352541, Accessed Feb 14 2016 from IEEE Xplore.

            [2]  Mendeley, Accessed Feb 14 2016,

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