Staying up to date with new research, no matter what the field of study, may be the single most important skill for any scholar, whether you’re a budding graduate student or a widely cited, tenured professor. Without actively seeking out where the current gaps and advances are, your writing and research results will either be irrelevant or obviously out of sync.
To capture attention with novel findings, you need to know what has been done before you. But, when hundreds of papers are published daily in just one research area, sometimes it seems impossible to keep up and truly digest noteworthy ideas. Also, how do you prioritize conducting academic research when there’s no deadline attached to it?
Here are some tips on how to easily and effectively stay up to date with emerging research in your field:
1. Perfect Your Search Words
Scholarly web searches filter out content from a massive pool of relevant books, journal articles, conference proceedings, and theses. Most sites sort the applicability of your search words based on verbatim text matching, how frequently the work is cited, who wrote it, and where it was published. These can all be adjusted and expanded with the “Advanced” setting in most databases. More importantly, the key is to identify concepts and phrases most relevant to your topic area and then perform several searches with other fitting words or phrases, both in broader terms and with a narrower focus. For instance, if you’re researching “cloud computing,” you might want to also use “remote servers” or perhaps “autonomic computing.” As a final advisement, make sure to use the terms that will be the center of your own developing manuscript.
2. Pinpoint Useful Databases
As you probably know, databases act as a repository of high-quality content from credible publishers and respected publications. They provide advanced search functions and, in a growing number of instances, the availability of open access findings. Some differentiate library catalogs (for books) from online databases (typically for journals), yet both serve the same purpose: presenting emerging, published research for both general as well as highly specific content.
It’s recommended to tailor yourself a trusty list of databases that are appropriate for your area of study. For example, if you’re looking for research in distance learning and online education, the ERIC is a large online library of general research and information from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).
Since each database has unique sources of acquisition, it’s foolish to rely on one for staying truly informed within your scholarly community. For instance, restricting yourself to the findings of the EBSCO Academic Search Premier may cause you to miss Credo Reference’s niche articles.
3. Sign Up for Email Alerts
Most publishers of journals or a book series you find particularly illuminating will have the option to sign up for topic alerts or various mailing lists. It’s a straightforward way to keep track of new papers and issues. The messages usually include the tables of content of the most highly indexed journals or most widely read book series in your field.
4. Set a Routine That Fits Your Schedule
Knowing the best search strategies and most relevant databases is pointless if you simply can’t allot the time to read any new research. Schedules are all different, and work habits determine how you can amend your day-to-day to-dos, but one suggestion is to spend a few minutes every morning scanning through recent publications and making a list of articles that seem important and intriguing in your topic area. Then, download as many papers from your list as you can. As the week progresses, take any downtime to read sections and take notes. Create a file—either digitally or physically—for relevant research and your notes on it. You’ll soon aggregate an impressive references list.
5. Use a Reference Manager
Another method of organizing the works you acquire, read, and find noteworthy is to use a digital reference manager. Combine this convenient way to track references with your current organization strategy or switch over entirely. With all of your research studies regularly complied, online reference managers such as Mendely, Endnote, RefWorks, or Zotero make it simple to list and store interesting articles for easy future reference. You can even make quick notes and labels to remind yourself what the key points in the research were.
6. Utilize Your Librarians
One of the chief duties of a librarian is to direct you to the highest quality and most relevant information. Talking to librarians in your academic community, depending on their area of expertise, may lead you to the discovery of exciting new articles or a database filled with pertinent research.
7. Attend Conferences and Seminars
Often, conferences and seminars are the source of the most pioneering research out there. Immersing yourself in the discussions and meetings at conferences and seminars is a great way to become briefed on trending research and what to look out for. Also, you’ll get a premier glance at forthcoming academic literature in your field, as many conferences publish their proceedings of accepted papers. Having a real-time presence as well can make a huge difference; it’s frequently summed up as “connection leads to inspiration.” Making connections with researchers and networks conducting emerging studies in your topic area can give you a workable edge.
8. Simultaneously Look Backward and Forward
When searching literature, it’s recommended to simultaneously search backward and forward. If a paper delves into interesting findings or connects outside research to a novel concept, be sure to not only take a look at the articles it cites but also at the papers that cite it. Some researchers call it “following the citations.”
9. Strengthen Your Online Presence
Consider using social media and other online media outlets to engage with and discover new academic communities and forums. Researchers working in similar fields of study will certainly want to connect with you, affording you access to relevant research activity and the opportunity to further promote your own research. You can often connect your university webpage, adding credibility and increasing the likelihood of scholarly engagement. From there, writing blog posts that chronicle any updates with your latest publications and research projects will open up the door to working with other academicians conducting similar research. Here’s another interesting tip: tweet about a new research study once per week. Tweeting will force you to fully comprehend a new study because you’ll have to condense the article’s findings down to 140 characters, which will also help leave an impression in your memory.
10. Be Selective
Perform regular research and then find the right balance: don’t read too quickly, too broadly, or too thoroughly. Ultimately, one researcher can’t stay up to date on everything that’s significant. Use your instincts as an expert and inherent understanding of your research area to comb through material and rule out works that are more than likely lackluster.
11. Ask Your Colleagues
Stay active with and talk to your colleagues. Asking about recent findings in the field doesn’t make you ignorant or out of touch; it makes you diligent. Discuss the latest research of an article you found compelling with other academics and then ask if they’ve read anything similar or anything that synthesizes the research.
Don’t end up missing every opportunity to keep up with emerging research and develop relevant content. The above tips will help you become more informed and engaged, and they may help you avoid that moment when a peer reviewer points out that you missed a particularly important citation.