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The lego to your learning

Ok there. Want to do some research huh? Or maybe you just want to learn more about a specific topic. Either way... it all starts right here!

And just so you know, you will do this many times in your life as a researcher. Oh, certainly.

Building a reading list is about unleashing your search foo to try and understand what work has been done in your area of interest, who have made the key contributions, and what publication venues do "good work." Note the "good" probably means some combination of substantial, deep, technical, creative, thorough, mind-breaking, disruptive, or unexptected. "Good" papers aren't always recognized as such right away. Part of building your reading list is about you deciding what angles on or aspect to the problem you value, are curious about, disagree with, or want to build on. 

Spend some time browsing and learning about journals, conferences, and paper repositories related to your interest. If you have a specific paper that piqued your interest, start there. Or perhaps an author or keyword. Different fields emphasize publishing in different types of venues. Some are more conference focused, whereas other focus on journals or even books. Usually this has something to do with how fast-paced the field is. For example, computer science tends to emhasize conferences because it changes so rapidly. History researchers tend to write books! 

  • Try several variations on the initial search term(s). 
  • Follow references within papers you find interesting. 
  • Follow links to the publication venues of authors whose work you like. 


Google Scholar is awesome for for finding papers. When you do a search, notice the link under each result that says, "all [xx] versions," which can often help to find an openly available copy of the paper. 

It can help to be aware of the citation count when you are doing literature searches. Key papers tend to have high reference counts, but older papers have had more time to accumulate citations. Also note that there are some pretty large count differences by platform and provider, so take these with a grain of salt. If you're curious, you might want to check out #altmetrics impact assessment tools like readermeter and total-impact. It might help to start with high citation count papers, but don't forget to include more recent and/or thought-provoking work. 

There is a lot of information out there, and you can't read everything. Find the right balance between adding everything and it's mother to the list, while maintaining some diversity in your sources.

There are several online platforms that let you curate reading lists such as Mendeley, Zotero, and CiteULike. But anything from a text file, Bibtex file, blog post, or local directory of PDFs will suffice. Do what works for your workflow.

Your reading list will continue to evolve over time, as it should. But once you've got a good starting point, share it in the comments. Post a link if your list is publicly accessible. Making the list public is great because others can learn from and extend your work. If not, take a screenshot and share a link to that. Bonus Karma points for sharing any tips or tricks along the way. 

Task Discussion