A recap of my year in #365papers

Last January, Jacquelyn Gill tweeted that she wanted to read a paper a day in 2015. I thought this was a great goal, and we decided we should create a hashtag to report on our reading efforts. Hence, #365papers was born. I didn’t really expect I would read a paper a day – and, at first, tweeted papers under both the #365papers and #260papers hashtags (where 260 had been proposed as a more reasonable number of working days in a year). But I (overly) optimistically thought there would be plenty of days where I’d read more than one paper, and that doing so would offset the days where I didn’t read any papers. I was completely wrong about that!* That said, I still think it was great to have the goal, as I think it got me reading more often, especially in the first half of the year.

Along the way, I kept track of what I read. Looking back through it has been interesting (to me, at least). Here’s more on what I read.


How did I do? Not as well as I’d hoped, but not completely terribly, in my opinion. Overall, I read 181 “papers” – though what to count was not always clear. I counted only papers that I read thoroughly and completely – say, at the level that I read something for a lab meeting. This meant that a lot of things that I read didn’t get counted, because I didn’t read the whole thing or only skimmed parts of it. I decided to count manuscripts and grant proposals that I was reviewing, as well as individual chapters of books and dissertations. In the end, I ended up reading:

  • book chapters: 25
  • journal articles: 100
  • manuscripts or proposals: 49
  • dissertation chapters: 7

The thing that stands out the most to me is how much of my (thorough) reading was for reviewing purposes. Some of that was as an associate editor, some as a regular peer reviewer, some as an ad hoc reviewer, and some as a panelist**. And, for papers I handled as AE, I counted each submission separately, because I read each submission really thoroughly (even if the paper just needed minor revisions.) So, the count would have been lower if I just counted each manuscript and not each submission. Still, 49 was higher than I expected, even given that.


Something else that surprised me was looking at the journals where the 100 journal articles that I read had been published. The only journals where I read at least 5 papers were Evolution, Nature, PNAS, Proceedings B, and Science. I definitely did not expect PNAS to be higher than Ecology or AmNat! The other surprising thing was how many journals there were: the 100 papers were in 53 different journals. I wouldn’t have expected that many, and suspect a lot of it relates to no longer primarily finding papers via emailed TOCs. Instead, I find most papers via Google Scholar alerts and, to a lesser extent, twitter.

If I’d kept track of the papers I skimmed or read only partially, the totals for AmNat, Ecology, and Ecology Letters would have been much higher. There are always at least one or two in each TOC that I receive that I skim, but apparently I don’t read those articles as thoroughly as I would have guessed. I’m not sure if that’s a problem or not.

Related to skimming: I realized, because of this project, how many articles I skim for teaching-related purposes. I read a lot of different things to get examples to use in class, but rarely read them thoroughly enough that I thought they should count. I guess that’s not surprising, but it really stood out to me, especially in the summer and fall.

Gender balance

I didn’t track gender of first authors during the year, but went back in and added that in after a discussion with Jacquelyn Gill and Anne Jefferson. Looking just at the journal articles, 39 had female first authors and 59 had male first authors. I had a sense that some of the male skew came from reading some older papers, so also looked just at papers published in 2010 or later. Of those, 37 had female first authors and 38 had male first authors. I’m not really sure what to make of that, but am happy that the new papers are well-balanced.

Year of publication

I was interested in seeing when the journal articles I read were published. I knew there were some really old ones, and suspected that overall it would skew heavily towards new papers. That was a pretty accurate assessment:

R Graphics Output

Figure 1. Year of publication of the journal articles I read in 2015, binned into 5 year intervals. 2015 was by far the most common year of publication.

Date of reading

The other thing that I was interested in – and suspected I’d be embarrassed by – was when I read things over the year. For this, I kept track of everything I read, including journal articles, manuscripts, proposals, and chapters. As I expected, I got off to a pretty strong start and then just completely fizzled in the fall.

R Graphics Output

Figure 2. Cumulative frequency distribution showing number of “papers” read over the course of the year. It definitely tapered off a lot in the fall.

I blame field season, teaching, and being on a faculty search committee for the tail off, but wish I’d done a better job of keeping up reading then. That said, there are only so many hours in a day (and only so many I can/want to devote to work).


Overall, my take is that this was an interesting experiment, and I plan to keep track of papers in 2016, too. However, I don’t think I’ll have 365 as my goal. When I got really off track, it became demoralizing to realize just how far off track I was. Instead, #200papers (suggested by my UMich colleague Tim McKay) seems like a more reasonable goal. Though, given the success of the #365papers hashtag, I might continue using that, even if 200 papers is actually my goal I like Abby Lawson’s idea to keep track of why I’m reading a paper (e.g., proposal, teaching, lab meeting, etc.) I also like Kirsty MacLeod’s idea to track how I found a paper (reference, twitter, TOC, etc). We’ll see how I do!


* I also set a goal to write a blog post a week. I reached my #52posts goal, so at least I was successful with one of them!

** I was on a preproposal panel, so counted 3 preproposals as a single “paper”, since they’re shorter.

28 thoughts on “A recap of my year in #365papers

  1. “I counted only papers that I read thoroughly and completely – say, at the level that I read something for a lab meeting.” If only all lab members were so conscientious (unfortunately, too often including myself).

    How long does it take you to thoroughly read a paper on average?

    • I think it’s pretty variable. A short, straightforward paper that I’m reading just for lab meeting might be as quick as 30 minutes, but that would be pretty short. Most take more than that, though, and some take many hours. It would be interesting to know how many hours I’ve spent reading a few particular papers (e.g., Gandon 2004 Evolution — a paper that is really packed and really relevant to my research; I’ve spent a lot of time reading and rereading that paper).

  2. Very thoughtful post! We never do read enough and it is so easy to do so these days with Google Scholar, Endnote, and DocstoGo! I read the most for writing review papers and try to do one of those a year, even if only on a narrow topic. I read so many proposals that act like they are the first to discover a topic when a simple literature search would have said otherwise. Read carefully and consistently, and better ideas will occur to you!

    • I’m about to start working on a review, and am really looking forward to the chance to dig in to the literature in that area.

      Your comment on proposals reminds me of a saying that I’ve been told they use in Mike Lynch’s lab, though I can’t remember the exact version of it. But it’s something like “6 months in the lab can save you 6 hours in the library.” (I’m sure I have the numbers off, but that’s the general idea. Maybe a Lynch Lab member/alum will chime in to correct the saying!)

      • Apparently it’s “6 months in the lab can save you 1 hour in the library”.🙂

  3. Although it’s a great initiative, my issue with #365papers — not just the mere fact of reading 365 papers a year, but publicising it on Twitter — is that it sounds like one should work every day of the year (like the 80 hours a week myth you so nicely wrote about). #260papers is not only more reasonable, but it also promotes a healthier work-life balance…

    • Yes, I see that concern. The #260papers one never took off the same way, though. I’ve tried this year to get #200papers going along with #365papers, but I’m not sure it will work.

      As I said in the post, my thought wasn’t that I’d actually read a paper every day (I agree that having that as a goal would not promote good work-life balance). I just vastly overestimated the number of days when I would read two or more papers, especially relative to the number of days when I wouldn’t read any. The latter included quite a few days where I was working — just not reading things that I counted for this project. For me, I think this was sort of like my initial experiences logging hours that I work — the process of tracking things made me realize how off my general sense was from reality.

  4. Am I correct in guessing that many of your #365papers were about Daphnia and its parasites? Whereas the many papers you didn’t count because you only skimmed them were about other systems?

    • Interesting question. Many were about Daphnia or parasites. Some (but a distinct minority of the total number) were about Daphnia and parasites. For this year’s tracking, I added a “general topic” column to my spreadsheet, so I should be able to come up with a better estimate at the end of this year.

  5. Re: the gender balance of your reading, I wouldn’t make much of it. You’re mostly choosing papers by topic (yes?), so the gender balance of the papers you read is mostly going to reflect the gender balance of authorship in the topics you happen to read about. Plus, what would you do if you wanted to change the gender balance of the papers you read?* I’m thinking back to the conversation we had about #mygendergap (https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/my-gender-gap/). If you wouldn’t change anything about who you’re collaborating with, or what you’re reading, then it’s a little hard to see the point of calculating the gender balance of your collaborators, or the authors of the papers you read.

    This isn’t to deny that gender balance is an important issue, of course. It’s just to say that there are some symptoms of a gender-imbalanced field that don’t have any good fixes, independent of fixes for the underlying causes. One should focus on treating the causes rather than the symptoms.

    *Well, there are lots of things you could do, but they’re obviously silly. Stop reading the older literature. Stop reading papers by Michael Lynch, Dieter Ebert, Spencer Hall, Ed McCauley, etc. Start choosing what topics to read about based on the gender balance of people working on those topics, rather than on whether you want or need to read about those topics. Etc.

    • Yes, I agree. As I said, it wasn’t something I’d even thought to look at, so the papers were chosen purely by topic, not considering gender. I only added that in to the analysis after Jacquelyn and Anne brought up the topic.

  6. How do you track the papers you read? A spreadsheet? Somehow in a ref manager? Something more or less fancy? (Paper?)

  7. Your histogram of the dates of papers was interesting. My first thought was that it was really skewed to recent papers. But my 2nd thought was that of course it would be really skewed to recent papers for an established researcher who presumably read the classics in grad school and kept up on the literature every year as it came out. I know for myself that these days the majority of papers I read carefully are ones I do as an editor or peer reviewer, so their publication date is actually in the future.

    It does raise the interesting question of what is an “optimal” distribution of paper age for different career stages. Or what a the distribution of paper ages looks like over the lifetime of a researcher.

  8. So Meg, since one big reason to read the literature is to get ideas, do you feel like you have more or better ideas thanks to this exercise? Or maybe I should just ask what you think you got out of the exercise?

    • Boy, that’s a hard question to answer (whether I got more or better ideas). I think the answer to whether I got more ideas is “yes”. I don’t have a sense for whether I got better ones. I suspect I got a broader set of ideas — since I was reading more, I wasn’t only reading the papers that were the closest to what I do. And I think broader is valuable.

      One downside that I didn’t think to mention in my post is that, in some cases, I probably should have cut my losses after realizing a paper wasn’t really worth the time, but felt like I’d invested enough time that I wanted it to count.

  9. Hmm.. I don’t think I could spend that much time reading journal articles, if only because I find much of the writing to be excruciating (I think it’s far worse in mol bio than in eco). If I’m “thoroughly” reading something, its going to take several hours spread over a few days, and it usually means re-reading, Plus there’s time ruminating in-between sessions of actual reading. At the other end of the spectrum, a simple paper, or one that I’m looking for something specific in, only takes a few minutes to skim it. I don’t think there really are any papers that I read that would take me between 20 and 90 minutes.

    • Yes, there were lots of papers I skimmed looking just for some simple info, or because I just wanted to see if they’d be worth reading more thoroughly (and then decided the answer was “no”).

  10. Did you keep track of or have a sense of the distribution of quality? What percentage were great, good, OK, bad, terrible?

    • I didn’t keep track of that. That would be an interesting (possibly depressing?) column to add to my spreadsheet.

  11. Pingback: Tracking #365 papers with IFTTT | Michael Scroggie

  12. I wonder if a tag #1000abstracts, or something similar (e.g. #500intros) would be an interesting alternative. I’ve found that forcing myself to read abstracts or intros leads me to read more papers. It is less intimidating to “start” if you just commit to the abstract or intro, and starting always feels like the biggest battle for me. It also helps with your “cutting your losses comment”. If you only commit to the intro for example, you don’t feel so bad about ditching the paper. [Intros may be preferable to abstracts because it forces you to open the paper]

    • Just replied on Twitter, will move it to the comments here: I know someone who reads the introductions (and just the introductions) of every paper published in several leading EEB journals. It’s his way of keeping up with the field.

  13. Pingback: Good enough | Dynamic Ecology

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