Poll: how do you find papers to read? (UPDATE: poll closed)

The scientific literature is vast and growing fast. Nobody can read everything, even if you only read abstracts. So everybody has to filter and decide what to read. Fortunately (or unfortunately!), there are many more filtering tools than there were just a decade or two ago. Which ones do you use?

This poll is a first for us: it’s a follow-up to a poll we did on the same topic five years ago. That poll found that things aren’t changing nearly as fast on this front as you might think if you only hang around with people who rely on new-skool filtering methods. But perhaps things have changed a lot just in the last five years? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess not, but we’ll see!

10 thoughts on “Poll: how do you find papers to read? (UPDATE: poll closed)

  1. Hi Jeremy – there’s a typo repeated twice: “Following up citations in papers other papers”. Also, does this cover following up citations to one’s _own_ work by other authors?

  2. My comment isn’t new, but it bears repeating: many of the methods above are great for finding current papers, but not so much for older papers. It isn’t uncommon to run across a paper or ms where the authors appear to be ignorant of important/relevant research on their topic that was performed pre-1990. I’ve been guilty of this, too.

    By extension, I am actually guilty of letting the convenience of emailed TOCs, search results, notifications, etc create lazy habits. Active literature searches are a good cure to the passive methods so common today.

    • “By extension, I am actually guilty of letting the convenience of emailed TOCs, search results, notifications, etc create lazy habits. Active literature searches are a good cure to the passive methods so common today.”

      Wait, how is a search (say, on a keyword or author name) “passive”? Ok, a keyword search might not turn up old papers, unless you’re searching Jstor. But it’s still an “active” filtering method, surely?

      Also, doesn’t Jstor address your concern about old papers?

      • I was not clear, sorry. I should not have used ‘search results’, I was differentiating between things like ResearchGate or Google recommendations when you go to their webpage and emailed notification services (my ’emailed search results’ and I wasn’t even clear on that)- but they are really the same thing.

        By active search I do mean entering keywords, using Jstor, but also running through and tracking down lit cited in older, relevant papers. By passive I meant things like social media, having TOCs emailed, ResearchGate or Google recommendations, and so on.

        Yes, Jstor does partially address my concerns. But my reading is still heavily biased toward new papers. It is only when researching a topic in depth that I find myself going through the older literature and often finding great papers (with more literature to read in the citation section) that are invaluable for offering different perspectives and opening up new possibilities. As well as the realization that some of the new stuff actually isn’t new. The older papers are so often so much more interesting to read as well- this gets into one of the Friday linkfest topics.

        Even so, passive methods of finding papers to read are simply so convenient which leads to issues (as you seem to have addressed in your poll).

  3. I answered “I don’t object…” to question three, but I would object if the suggestion was created by Facebook/Twitter itself, and not by a friend/colleague that I trust.

    • Yeah, hard to survey on nuances like that. This issue came up in another recent thread too. People don’t necessarily treat papers they hear about from (say) their Twitter feeds the same way as they treat papers they hear about from a keyword search, or from following up citations, or etc.

  4. I don’t view google scholar searches as true keyword searches, I view them as algorithmic recommendations. I’m guessing that I’m in the minority on this (so interpreted your poll as if I believed GS keyword search is a true keyword search).

    I find it interesting that some colleagues who dislike Twitter and Facebook as a method of deciding who to read seem fine with Google Scholar. I do use google scholar and twitter recommendations for personal academic reading, but I am ideologically opposed to using google scholar searches for systematic reading for writing intros/lit reviews (which is a large percentage of the papers I read). I outline 3 reasons below

    [1] The big reason is that Google’s algorithm is really untransparent (it makes facebook and twitter seem like transparency angels) and I don’t like the idea of such an untransparent algorithm controlling who I cite. For more, see a great post by Chris Brown on the subject


    [2] Google Scholar has a bug that fails to index any paper that was previously a preprint [e.g. on bioArxiv, arxiv] that has the same title as the new peer-reviewed paper. Meaning a paper comes out as a preprint, GS indexes it, then when it comes out as a peer-reviewed paper, GS ignores this and says its still a preprint for several months/years/indefinitely. Google Scholar has known about this bug for at least 5 years and has publically said that they aren’t really interested in fixing it.


    [3] Unlike web of science, there is no responsive support staff to address complaints if there is a bug in their algorithm. If you are savvy, you can find a way to contact support, but in my and my colleagues experience it never leads to any reply or resolution.

    Of course, google scholar has done some great things for science, and should probably be used to search for preprints and grey literature that can’t be found in Web of Science, but this should be used as a supplement to more transparent search methods.

    • Re: people objecting to others using social media to choose papers to read: maybe don’t read much into that. Because I can tell you that *every single filtering method* is disapproved of by at least one respondent!

      I’m shocked that anyone objects to following up citations in papers you’ve read, or using keyword searches, or reading papers suggested by colleagues in conversation. I hope some of these folks comment, as I’m dying to know the bases of their objections. Because they must have their reasons! That I can’t for the life of me imagine what those reasons could be just shows the limits of my imagination.

  5. Pingback: Poll results: how ecologists find papers to read | Dynamic Ecology

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