Day 11: Reading academic literature is an iterative process

See all the videos in this series here

Yesterday, I talked about starting with the most influential papers in your field. Obviously, you have to then go beyond that and read a lot of the less influential papers too.

The mistake people often make is to treat this as a linear process like a production line; read a paper once, take notes, move on. But it is an iterative process, where you have to read some papers several times throughout your PhD.

See also
How to write a PhD literature review

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6 thoughts on “Day 11: Reading academic literature is an iterative process

    • It’s OK to make some notes, but having a mountain of notes doesn’t mean you understand.

      I think it helps to focus on specific questions (for example, how has technique A been applied to different problems). Then you can build a picture of the diverse range of applications and can look up specific studies if you need to.

  1. I agree with the iterative process, especially when you are doing a systematic literature review.

    When I started my first literature review (I worked on 4 lit reviews) I got a good advice from one professor to do it in 5 steps, which I used also in my last review which was very extensive and it worked good:
    1. Read only titles – this limits very quickly the number of papers in my case down to 1200, I started with ~3500 (actually 4603 but the 1000 were duplicates from different databases Mendely solved that automatically)
    2. Read only abstracts – a bit more effort but limits even more the papers in my case around 450
    3. Read only introduction and conclusion – more effort because of the download, limit down to 300
    4. Read the whole paper quickly – down to 160
    5. Read the whole paper carefully – down to 150

    Step 0. Use reference management system Like Mendely or Zotero
    In my first review I had initially 1000 papers and got down to 30 papers relatively quickly if anyone wonders.

  2. Thank you very much for this series Up until today I had not read even one word coming though my email most probably I subscribed to receive information and forgot about it to day.
    I listened to your video on how to write a lit review and realized that had done my review in the form of making notes and listing sources.
    I am in the process of analyzing data of 1500 questionnaires collected from secondary schools on wellness so I would like to begin writing just the pilot study report and to refine my lit review i had done at proposal preparation

    I will follow through your series and I hope to read information on how to actually prepare the thesis.

    I really appreciate your efforts of helping other people God bless you do you know that even the universities do not provide such information

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