Keeping up-to-date with the literature

by Diana Athonvarangkul and Lindsey Costantini

Do you have a pile of articles on your bench that you’ve been meaning to read? Are you not sure where to start your next literature search? Do you ask yourself how you can possibly keep up with the immense amount of scientific literature out there? Rest assured, you are not alone. Keeping up with the literature can be daunting when you’re also trying to keep up with experiments and classes. Here are some resources and tips that will make it easier to stay up-to-date with the literature in your field.

RSS: (Real Simple Syndication) Instead of wasting time and going to many individual websites, RSS and RSS readers give you the power to aggregate frequently updated information, including references, from journal websites, news sources and your favorite science blogs. Watch this brief YouTube video RSS in Plain English brought to you by CommonCraft for the RSS basics. Next, select a RSS reader, chose from web-based, browser-based or desktop-based readers. Google Reader is a great option for those who already have Gmail accounts. Then all you need to do is start clicking the orange icon and collecting subscriptions.

PubCrawler: Everyone searches PubMed for scientific literature, but with PubCrawler you can set up regularly scheduled, automated searches.  Once you create a profile, all you need to do is select your own keywords and topics, search schedule and provide an email address where you’d like to receive your results. Then this free service will send you email alerts at your preferred frequency.

Chasing citations: Lost and don’t know where to start? Pick up a landmark paper (or review article) on your topic of interest and start ‘chasing citations,’ looking at references that are cited in the landmark paper and/or more recent publications that have cited it. When you search for the landmark paper using Web of Science (accessible at Einstein library), the results page will display:

  • Cited by shows the number of times this article has been referenced. Click on the hyperlink to find a list of the articles that have cited the landmark paper.
  • References indicates the number of references this article has cited. The hyperlink here will give you a list of the references in the landmark paper.
  • Related records suggests other articles that have also cited some of the references in the landmark paper. This is the scientific version of Amazon’s useful feature “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.”

Google alerts: Get e-mail updates on new and relevant information on your topic of interest by signing up with Google alerts. This tool will help you monitor the latest breakthroughs on your topic of interest (or your lab’s competitors) using Google’s search query. As you set up your search terms, Google provides a preview of results and allows you to adjust keywords to refine your results. You can also manage your results by source (news, blogs, videos, discussions, books), frequency (as it happens, once a day, once a week) and volume (only the best, all).

While you may consider your project and research field to be the most exciting things since sliced bread, take a look at the two resources below to see what other people are reading.

Research blogging: Whether you’re looking to expand your general knowledge or just want to take a break from the minutiae of your own research area, you can find great reads at Research Blogging.  All the blogs listed on this site write about peer-reviewed research, with topics ranging from anthropology to engineering to neuroscience.

F1000Prime: Browse F1000Prime, a directory of the top publications in biology and medicine recommended by thousands of expert faculty and clinical researchers. Articles are rated based on the number of suggestions.  You can also read the comments and insights made by the recommender—meaning, you can get into the brain of some of the top researchers.

Other tips that we’ve gathered on keeping up-to-date with the literature include:

  • Use authors (yourself, your mentor, a collaborator, a competitor or a big name in the field) in your keyword search terms to see how their current research is expanding.
  • Increase your reading speed. Even with all these tools that we’ve suggested, you’ll still be facing a mountainous pile of literature to read. You can undoubtedly find the best speed reading strategy for yourself by searching for tips on the web. But to start, try reading only the first and last sentences of each paragraph within an article to locate the section most relevant to your needs.
  • Designate a specific block of time for reading each week. If Mondays are your “slow time” in lab, then set aside an hour every Monday afternoon to read. Keep this up until it becomes a habit. Being knowledgeable in your field is as valuable to your research as running your next western blot.

These suggestions and resources are meant to provide tools to simplify and streamline your searching. We hope that you are inspired to get organized and begin tackling your pile of papers. If you know of any additional resources or have any helpful tips of your own, please post them in the comments section.

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2 Responses to Keeping up-to-date with the literature

  1. We would like to recommend a few other resources and add to the information you provided. As librarians, we are always striving to make our users aware of resources that can aid them in their research. For this purpose we have created a research guide on setting up personal accounts for several databases available at Web of Science offers the Cited Reference Search which is a more efficient way to find citing papers. MyNCBI is PubMed’s own “tracking system” covering much more than just PubMed and GenBank. The Library’s website has much more information on these and other resources. If you have questions, please see a librarian. We’ll be happy to assist you.

  2. xcorr says:

    There’s a handful of recommendation engines that can help you keep up with the literature based on your publication history or your current interests reflected in your library of citations. See here:

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