Monday, March 30, 2015

Literature Logistics: Staying Current


Welcome to my personal corner of retrosyn where I highlight research articles, people, and discuss tools for effective research. For this month, the topic is literature logistics.

Many non-scientists may imagine that research revolves around getting messy in the lab. Unfortunately, this is not true. Research, as its name suggests, is driven by the literature. The logistics of managing the vast body of content that crosses my desktop can feel overwhelming at times. Recently, I had the opportunity to write a review article for the AAPS Journal.  This was a great experience because it allowed me to hone my literature management skills. Luckily there are several tools out there designed to make your research life easier. This month I'll be explaining the tools within my personal arsenal and how I use them.

Staying Current with RSS feeds.

Staying current with the literature is very important. Not only does it keep you informed about innovations within your field, it can introduce you to new ideas that will foster creativity and inspiration. Additionally, reading through ASAPs can serve as a semi-productive alternative to distracting sites like Facebook during moments when you just need some internet downtime.

 There are many ways to find new papers to read, but I recommend using an RSS feedUsing several free RSS readers, you can access content from all your favorite journals from one convenient site. This saves you time and can aid in organizing any interesting articles you find. You can subscribe to feeds from individual journal sites or you can create your own RSS feed using a research database such as PubMed or Web of Science.

For me, Feedly allows for more control over your subscriptions list when compared to other RSS readers. You can easily search for feeds to follow and organize them into categories. The "must read" feature allows you to readily access your need-to-read journal feeds. 

For 5$ a month or 45$ a year you could upgrade feedly to premium. Two of the main features that drew me to this is the integration with note taking apps such as Evernote and One Note and also it gives you the ability to search your feed and beyond for keywords. This way when I am pressed for time, I can search for a keyword such as "hydrogels" and make sure I'm not missing any new literature on the topic within my feeds. This feature also allows you to search beyond your feeds to find related content you may have missed! Additionally, if I'm trying to find an article that I neglected to save, I can use keywords to locate it quickly.

If you are looking for more advanced ways to search for articles specific to your topic, you can create an RSS feed from a search within Pubmed or Web of Science. This way, the results of your query will be delivered directly to your RSS feed. Pubmed is slightly more user friendly than Web of Science, in my opinion, but both are powerful tools for locating new and exciting research.

An RSS feed would be useless if you didn't take the time to read it! To stay current, I try to incorporate browsing my feed into my daily routine. For example, I browse my feed while drinking a cup of coffee in the morning or first thing at work. Additionally, I have exploited browser extensions to help me stay on top of things.

Waste No Time is a browser extension that allows you to block distracting sites during your work day. To keep me from cheating outright, I allow myself a maximum of 15 total minutes on blocked sites between 8am and 8pm Monday through Friday. When I am out of time, I have set it to redirect me to my Feedly page. This way if I'm in need of some internet downtime, my urge to procrastinate is redirected to browsing ASAPs.

How do you stay on top of the literature?

For more hints and tricks for staying on top of your literature, please check out these links!

Next time I'll be offering my personal low down on citation managers such as Zotero, Mendeley, and Endnote.