Reading can also feel disheartening, as you will often find that other people have already published on what you thought was a really novel or original idea.
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And so it can all too easily happen that this important task of investing in your knowledge gets prioritized lower than all the other apparently more urgent duties that you have as a scientist. Our job is to push the frontier of what is already known, so we need to be aware of where this frontier is. However, trying to stay up to date with the literature is tremendously difficult.
As an assistant professor, my job is to not only do research but also to teach, obtain funding, do professional service including peer review, give talks, attend committee meetings, and more. This constant multitasking makes it difficult to carve out time for keeping up with papers. Another challenge lies in the immense amount of new work that constantly gets published. The number of journals and venues is very large, and it continues to grow. This is further aggravated if you work in a field that is multidisciplinary, because then this number is multiplied, becoming barely manageable.
For young scientists in particular, there is the additional challenge of trying to stay on top of newly published literature while still building up knowledge of their research areas. Keeping up is essential, no doubt about it. To be able to provide novel results, you have to know what has been done before you. Plus, you want to benefit from all the ideas, data, and interpretations that have accumulated in the literature right up to that point. Thousands of papers are published daily. Another challenge for me is that my research is multi-faceted, so I need to read in my broader field, which covers a lot of ground.
Our function as scientists is to push the envelope and create new knowledge and understanding, so we always need to be as up to date as we can be in our areas. But keeping up with the literature is potentially an overwhelmingly large task, and there are no deadlines attached to it. And so, among all the other things that I have responsibilities for, it often feels hard to prioritize.
Austin , associate professor of psychiatry and medical genetics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. But I find that keeping up with the literature always comes with a trade-off: Do I spend more time on my research projects, or do I read the latest papers? To keep on top of my specialty area, I carry out regular, systematic literature searches using a tool called PubCrawler. PubCrawler automatically searches online publication databases using key search terms that I set up, and it sends me a weekly email highlighting all the new and potentially relevant papers, with a link to the abstract or full text.
I find out about other recently published papers I ought to read from email alerts I get from the key journals in my area. I also become aware of new publications through colleagues who email me, and from social media. So I have a set time once a week, on Mondays, to look at the output of my literature searching tools.
I sift through it all and then at least skim the papers that I find most relevant. Thorough reading of the full papers may be more sporadic. The tools I use to keep track of new literature are Feedly , which allows me to subscribe to the RSS feeds of relevant journals; a string of PubMed updates , which capture any relevant literature published outside those journals; and Twitter, which helps me identify what literature the broader scientific community is talking about.
I like spending a few minutes every morning skimming recent publications for articles that are especially interesting or relevant to my work. Coupled with a regular block every Friday devoted to more critical reading and lots of note taking, this generally allows me to stay up to date. Whatever routine you decide to set for yourself, I think the key is to find a way to interact with the literature regularly. I continuously monitor the growing literature using the updates feature in Google Scholar , which recommends a selection of new papers to read based on your own publications.
Monitoring the handful of main conferences in my field throughout the year, plus a couple of other relevant venues, also does a good job. Many conferences eventually publish their proceedings, and so whenever the lists of accepted papers get published, I also go through them as soon as I can and look at the papers that seem the most relevant to me. Sometimes, reading the abstract suffices. Other times, if it is closely related to my research, I print it for when I find time to go over it in more detail.
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Also, I make a point to regularly look at what leading researchers in my field publish and to talk to my peers. To know when relevant papers are published, I rely on alerts that the journals automatically send to highlight new publications that cite papers I found of interest previously. There is also substantial activity on social media, with journals promoting and researchers discussing new articles. Reddit Science's Ask Me Anything, or AMA, forum discussions are a great way to hear about innovative research and talk to the authors directly.
Recommender systems such as PubChase can also be great tools to hear about new papers early. However, most recommender systems find papers based on how similar they are to papers you previously read, which inevitably limits your exposure to tangential ideas that may be important to your research.
I therefore like going through the tables of contents of my favorite journals. In terms of how I find time for dealing with the literature, I usually go through email alerts as I get them to quickly become aware of the most important new publications. I also find that tweeting or blogging about one paper a week, or a day, is a good incentive for reading in depth. Other advantages of Twitter are that it helps me find researchers with similar interests and helps me build a brand.
In economics there is usually a long publication lag, so I also have to be aware of working papers getting published and new publications being presented at conferences and in seminars. Attending events and talking to others are very important ways to find out about the latest papers. I also follow some blogs written by economists and several economists on Twitter who tend to write about new papers. To deal with the time pressure, I try to be efficient in how I scan the literature. I find it very useful to at least read through the titles and abstracts of the latest papers published in the journals, and then I decide carefully which papers I should read extensively.
To keep up with new papers being published, I use a combination of RSS feeds from journals in my field, Google Scholar Updates, the reference manager Papers , and recommendations from senior scientists on Faculty of or directly from colleagues.
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Twitter is also becoming increasingly valuable as a tool for spreading exciting research, and I strongly recommend getting networked through social media. The volume of literature out there makes keeping track a collective effort, and it's also good to have a venue for promoting your own work amid the sea of information.
And so, every few weeks, I try to download as many papers as I can—both newly published papers that are relevant to my work and older papers that I recently became aware of—and read them in chunks as the week progresses. Still, summer is best for reading—I have fewer teaching and administration obligations, so this is when I can really catch up with the literature. For general background reading in my field, I usually start by looking at new articles that have cited my work, as the likelihood that I am interested in what they have to write about is much higher.
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Similarly, I look at both recent and past citations to papers I found interesting to find further reading. For more targeted literature searches, Google—both Google Scholar and just the normal search bar—and PubMed are great. If I am moving into a new area, I usually contact colleagues, including people I know through conferences, and ask them if they have recommendation lists for me.
I find that, nowadays, searching for past literature is the easy part. Search engines and Google Scholar, together with other tools which allow users to follow citations, do a good job. If discipline-specific conferences or journals exist, I also go through the papers published in them, going at least 5 years back.
What I find much more challenging is how to organize the works that I read and knowledge I acquire, and how to search back through them.
Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:. The purpose of a literature review is to:.
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It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally that become part of the lore of field.
In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.
Types of Literature Reviews. Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].
Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems.
A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.
Literature Review: Conducting & Writing
Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline.
The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research. Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study. Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review.
The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B? Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena.
The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems.