Keeping Up With Reading Research Papers

Lately my pile of papers to read has been growing steadily, and I've done very little to read all that stuff marked with "will read someday". It had to come to an end, and it did with my previous Task Bankruptcy.

Reading research papers can be a huge waste of time... Or end up in forming big piles of To be read someday. The problem is, usually someday never means today. And every time you look at your pile you get that feeling of not keeping up.

A scheme of what I am doing now:
  1. Read it over quickly. Note down tools I don't know or I need to refresh. If there are interesting references, note them down for reading
  2. Find out the unknown tools, if needed to understand what is done in the paper.
  3. Read again quickly.
  4. Write down over the first page of the paper the interesting theorems or tools used.
  5. (Optional) If a deep understanding of the paper is needed, read again slowly, checking coherence. Note down on the margin key ideas (interesting transformations, relationships with other problems, obscure references).
  6. (Optional) Write down a mind-map or scheme of the article if a deep understanding is needed.
This way, in as little as 30 minutes (if the subject is known) a whole article can be scanned for the interesting stuff, stopping in part 4. And usually with most articles step 2 is a very short step, in 1 hour you will have your article read and annotated for future reference.

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Written by Ruben Berenguel