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Continuous Learning 2: Methods to Keep up with the Latest Literature

Embracing the challenge of information overload

The amount of literature in all fields is growing at an exponential rate. The number of peer-reviewed medical articles catalogued in 1990 was ~400,000; over the last 10 years, an average of nearly 1 million new journal articles were added to the PubMed database. 

Information overload challenges all researchers with similar fundamental questions:

What data do I need to learn?

How do I streamline my learning, so as not to miss something important?

What articles should I read?

How do I select them?

So, how can you keep up with the latest literature in your field? Here are some effective methods used by fellow research academics.

1. Create citation alerts

Google Scholar represents one of the most comprehensive databases for academic citations. You can set up alerts for when your own articles are cited or follow other selected authors in your field whose work is crucial to your own. You can also establish alerts for particular topics and receive real-time notifications when new articles are published. 

2. Create Table of Contents alerts

If your institution has access to the Web of Science, you can create alerts via Current Contents Connect. You can have Tables of Contents alerts from multiple journals sent to you via email. A free alternative is JournalTOCs. 

3. Use other alert services

You can set up search alerts on PubMed or PubCrawler web services; researchers use them with varying degrees of success. The Faculty of 1000 (F1000) and Journal Watch from the New England Journal of Medicine offer assessments of articles by other user experts and may be of help to you.

New machine learning systems, such as SciReader recommender engine, are being developed and may prove helpful as well. This article by Marshall and Wallace (2019) offers a useful primer on the topic. 

4. Use social media and word of mouth

Many journals today also promote new articles via social media outlets. Useful channels include Reddit Science and Mendeley.

Finally, ask your immediate circle of colleagues what they are reading and what they recommend. In return, share with them your own literature discoveries. 

An ongoing challenge

Regardless of the methods you choose to stay on top of the literature, be aware that this practice will take dedicated time and effort. Also, there will always be another article, journal or book you could read. But don’t give up! Many researchers reserve time every day to source and read new literature. The amount of effort you spend is up to you, but don’t be surprised if it comprises a major portion of your time. If you develop a highly useful system of literature search and curation, share it with your colleagues.


Read next (final) in series: Continuous Learning 3: Continuing Education (CE) for Academic Researchers

Read previous in series: Continuous Learning 1: Actions for Becoming a Successful Academic Author


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