Sourcing, Screening, and Storing new literature with Scholarcy
Why is a literature search important?
Literature searches are important because they enable the targeted discovery of new research, whether in the form of an academic paper, a news article, or a new scientific method. This is a key skill to learn as it allows students and researchers to stay on top of the most up to date and relevant literature in their field. Because of the time it takes to get a textbook published, academic articles are usually the best way to stay on top of the current advances in your field of choice.
In the digital age, journals are often only available online. Gone are the days of librarians cataloguing physical papers or disseminating information via printed copies. To source new literature now, students and researchers just need to go to a publisher’s website, or use a search engine, and a wealth of information is at their fingertips.
Quickly finding a relevant paper directly through a journal website is a largely impractical approach due to the potential time it can take to find a relevant study. This is why search engines like Google Scholar, and PubMed have been invented. These types of search engines allow advanced search criteria and filtering to be employed, which can significantly improve how quickly you can source new papers. A growing number of free-to-use knowledge discovery platforms exist with an emphasis on open-source literature. Tools like OpenAlex, and RDiscovery have seen an uptick in popularity as users are looking for new ways to speed-up their literature discovery process. Greater availability of open access articles and improved methods of knowledge discovery have led to an increase in the number of references that can be found in academic articles (Dai et al., 2021).
Sourcing and screening literature
The first step in sourcing and screening literature is understanding what you need to read in order to gain a better understanding of the field. For seasoned academics this is an easy and unconscious process. They have developed such an understanding of their subject that searching for and determining an article’s relevance can be done seamlessly. For newer academics and students, it’s a skill that must be mastered. They will often have to think for longer about what their research topic covers, and formulating effective search term before even identifying potential papers to read.
Using advanced search terms and Boolean operators will allow you to narrow down the search to be closer to your information criteria. It is common to filter these search results to only show papers from the last 3-5 years – these are normally the most relevant papers due to the fast advancements being made.
Beginning the screening process
At this point, researchers often begin the screening process by checking the title for keywords to see if anything piques their interest and looking at the paper’s citation count to gauge its significance or impact.
After selecting a paper based on its title and citation count, researchers often begin by reading the abstract, as this can be a way of ensuring that reading the full paper is going to be worth their time. This isn’t always the case, as abstracts can be limited in their word count, which can lead to some being non-specific, or giving a poor overview of the paper.
This means the reader will have to be very critical when reading abstracts to find papers which may have embellished facts, or overlook key information. After the abstract has been screened, the paper will fall into one of three categories: Definitely read; Definitely don’t read; and, more information is needed. When further information is needed to make a decision, the reader will usually consult the conclusion, and possibly the results section – a process that can take time and effort, and not necessarily provide the certainty that busy academics need when screening literature.
Storing new papers
If a paper is deemed worth reading, it usually gets saved asa PDF, or kept open in one of many tabs on the user’s browser possibly to be forgotten – a scenario many academics will know only too well. This often leads to losing track of papers, or creating endless lists of articles destined to never be read.
This is an area where Scholarcy can help: by giving the researcher the tools to keep track of their literature. Scholarcy makes sourcing new literature, screening it, and then storing it more efficient and intuitive than the traditional methods.
“Scholarcy makes screening articles much quicker and I can see the similarities and differences between articles more easily.” Omar Ng.
Using Scholarcy to screen new literature
Using the Scholarcy browser extension allows readers to screen papers in more detail than the abstract can provide. Scholarcy’s generated Synopsis is useful for determining if a paper meets the users search criteria. It provides a narrative overview of the research which touches on information about study participants, limitations, and further work. Readers gain a good understanding of the approaches and outcomes of the study from reading the Synopsis, helping them to make a more informed decision about how useful the full paper will be for them.
Scholarcy Highlights can be used to find a few important facts and findings that can help readers decide if the paper is relevant to their search, or just related. The Scholarcy Summary can then be used to gain a greater insight into the paper. This entire process can take as little as five minutes and lets the reader absorb the underlying points of the literature without the major time investment or cognitive load.
Saving papers from Scholarcy’s browser extension also saves a lot of time and the advanced search feature built into Scholarcy Library makes retrieving saved papers quick and easy. Gone are the days of saving a paper ‘article 02-07-23.pdf’ only to lose it a day later, never to be found again. Every Summary Flashcard is stored with a link back to the full text, alongside the author names, and a headline fact, making it easy to identify which paper is which.
“I organise my documents into folders and use Synopsis and Comparative Analysis to find out more.” David Narong.
Setting up an RSS feed in Scholarcy is a simple way to make the literature from your keyword search come to you. Simply paste in the RSS feed URL, and watch your folder fill up with Flashcards containing all the salient points of related articles. These can be easily screened using the title, citation count, and headline summary, before even opening the flashcard.
Papers from an RSS feed can be skim-read using the Flashcard to ensure the research content fits the original search criteria, and that the conclusions drawn are relevant to your report. These papers can then be moved to a different folder to store in an easily identifiable location. Folders can be shared with colleagues or course mates to enable to collaboration on a research project.
With Scholarcy, readers never need to leave the app to discover new articles! The option to search for new papers using Scholarcy’s OpenAlex integration helps with literature discovery and the ability to screen articles quickly using the Flashcard format has been cited as a game-changer by many users.
“I use Scholarcy to store and keep track of all of my reading.” Manish Thanki.
- Dai, C. et al. (2021) ‘Literary runaway: Increasingly more references cited per academic research article from 1980 to 2019’, PLOS ONE, 16(8), p.e0255849. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0255849.