Ask any graduate student about their Lit Review and each would have a few not so pleasant things to say about the process. Fellow GradHacker Andrea Zellner previously wrote about ways to survive a Lit Review, but what happens when you’ve survived and the Lit Review is no longer your biggest priority? I recently finished writing a 35-page Lit Review for my thesis proposal and after successfully proposing my project I’m starting to collect data. As a result, I won’t be able to dedicate the same amount of time to keeping up with the literature; however, I need to remember one thing: while I’ve stopped searching for articles frequently, the research world hasn't stopped publishing! In the time it takes to complete data collection and analysis, a year (or more) of research will have been published and I’ll have the daunting task of updating my out of date Lit Review (shudders). So, I’m going to provide you with some EFFICIENT strategies for keeping up with the literature when the Lit Review isn’t priority number one. These strategies will also be valuable once you've graduated and are in the working world where you’ll face the same priority issues. I've broken the process down based on three types of articles: those directly related to your thesis work, loosely related to your work, and media coverage.
1. Articles directly related to your thesis work
Tracking search terms is a must during the Lit Review process. Since I will be so busy, I’ve set up automatic searches in Scopus and PubMed that allow me to enter my standard keywords and every week I receive an email containing a list new papers found with these terms. If the search engine you use doesn’t have this email feature, then you could set aside a time every week to search the terms, but it always slips my mind. Another benefit is that you’ll be able to find articles that are in press ensuring that you're getting the most up to date research.
2. Articles loosely related to your work
The above strategy is too specific to search for articles about general methods, instrumentation, or related work that have used completely different techniques. To search for these articles, subscribe to RSS feeds of the Table of Contents (or In Press list) for journals related to your work. Even if you aren’t connected to your university server, you can usually read the abstracts for each of the papers. Table of Contents don't change that often, but the in press articles arrive frequently, so come up with a plan for how often you think you need to check. I browse once a week using the app Pulse on my iPad or Google Reader. Another method is to find a listserv related to your topic. For example, the International Society of Biomechanics has a listserv that comes out every week or two that searches a few general terms and organizes them based on sub-topic.
3. Media Coverage
While we typically search for scholarly articles, tracking what is making headlines from your field can be valuable in guiding how you present your work and help you to keep up with what the perception of your field is in the general public. For example, my research is on prolonged standing, and there has been a movement away from sedentary seated work to more standing work in the office place, providing headlines such as "Is your office chair giving you cancer?" The tool that many of my colleagues use for this type of searching is Skygrid for the iPad. You can enter keywords and receive article headlines. I don't think it’s perfect since the search results can be too broad, but you still get a sense of what is popular since it will find many articles on the same topic from different news outlets. I’ve also had success keeping up with media Twitter feeds.
No matter the means used to keep up with the literature, there are two main things to remember: don’t check too often since you have higher priority tasks to complete and AUTOMATE your searches as much as possible. With these tips, lets make the Lit Review process a less painful one as we near the finish line!
What tricks do you use to keep up with literature when concentrating on different aspects of your thesis work?