How to survive the tsunami of scientific literature

As a scientist, it is important to keep up with the latest developments in your field. One way of doing this is by reading the most recent scientific papers. But in the constant bombardment of papers, it can be tricky to choose which ones to read and which ones to ignore. In this blog post, I will quickly guide you through my system.

My way for dealing with the mind-boggling amount of scientific literature encompasses three steps:

  1. Look for scientific papers and save PDFs based on title
  2. Read abstract, summarize and classify
  3. READ!

1. Look for scientific papers

The first step is quite straightforward. Before you can read papers, you have to find them. You can do this by visiting the websites of journals in your field and browse through the contents of their latest issues. I mostly have a look at journals such as Evolution, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Biological Reviews, Current Biology, ect. In addition, you can subscribe to the newsletters of these journals. Another possibility is creating a keyword alert using websites such as Scopus or Web of Science. For example, I receive weekly mails with papers that include the keywords “introgressive hybridization”.

Based on the title (and sometimes the abstract if the title is not very informative), I save a PDF of the paper on my laptop. I link this PDF to a reference in the software EndNote. In Endnote, I have created several folders to store the newly found papers. The first folder – Avian Hybrids – contains papers that are relevant for my website on Avian Hybridization, where I gather the scientific literature on (you guessed it!) avian hybrids. The second folder – General Papers – contains the rest of the papers that I find online.

2. Read abstract, summarize and classify

Next, I have a look at the abstract. While I do this, I open another program: Evernote. This software can be seen as a giant electronic notebook. Instead of wasting paper, I prefer to save my notes digitally. In Evernote, I have created a notebook called ‘Paper Administration’. Every time I dive into my pond of scientific literature, I take some notes. I briefly summarize the paper based on the abstract and (if applicable) write down some additional comments or thoughts. For example, this paper could be interesting for idea X or this papers reminds me of another paper.

Based on the abstract, I decide whether or not I want to read the whole paper. If yes, I transfer it to a new folder, conveniently called ‘Read whole paper’. If no, I delete the paper from the list and it is saved in my library. One of my fears was forgetting about papers. A paper might not be relevant at the moment, but in a couple of months I might need it. By taking some notes in Evernote, I keep my ideas stored somewhere (instead of my brain, which is not foolproof…). Later on, I can easily search through my notes with the very handy search function in Evernote.

3. READ!

And finally, I read the papers in my folders ‘ Avian Hybrids’ and ‘Read whole paper’ , when I find the time…

PhD read

I hope this post was useful. If you have any questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate to contact me. I will try to read your mail as soon as possible! 😉


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