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Studying How should I read a paper?

  • Thread starter Haorong Wu
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I am currently reading a lot of papers about ion trap. I have searched some advices about reading paper. They suggest that I should write down some elements of a paper, such as key contents, research methods, problems, causes of the problems, solutions, innovations, and next steps.

However, i find it hard to trace all this elements. Because most of papers I read are reviews, there may not be problems, causes, solutions clearly stated in papers.

Are there other useful elements should I pay attention to? I believe more useful elements could help me keep a clear mind, since there are so many papers to read.

Thanks!
 

Choppy

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I don't know that there is a single "best" way to read a paper.

One tip I have is to consider your own goals in the reading. When you have a broad and vague goal such as "I want to learn about ion traps" you'll probably have a harder time reading because it's difficult to quantify a goal like that. You won't know when you're done, and it may even be difficult to assess whether you're even making progress. As a result you end up having to rely on the authors to guide you. Which incidentally is fine for some authors - well-written papers can be enjoyable to read - but I find a lot of academic authors produce stuff that quite honestly is a slog to get through.

I find when I'm working on a project and I want to know how others have accomplished something specific, maybe I'm struggling with how to set up a simulation, I can get through a lot of papers simply looking for those details. That gives me a context in which to read the paper. And once I figure out what the authors have done, I know I can put the paper down and move on to the next one.
 

Dr. Courtney

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My first suggestion would be to actually read the paper - beginning to end - every word of text, the abstract, the figure captions. Most fall into the temptation to just skim the paper - read the abstract, figure captions, and bits of the text in the body.

Secondly, I approach different papers differently.

In an experimental paper, my goal is to approach the introduction section with a few goals in mind. I want to recall the answers to these questions: 1) Why is this experiment important? What key work came before this one? What does this experiment add? What key idea is tested here? For the method section, my key questions are: What are the key elements needed to repeat this experiment? What other groups, labs, or facilities are capable of comparable work? Is the method described really adequate for testing the key idea described in the introduction? For the results section, my top questions are: What does the data say about the key idea? What level of confidence does the data provide relative to the focus of the paper? Is there data missing that I wish I could see? Are sufficient analysis details available to repeat the analysis? Could the data have been presented more clearly? For the discussion section my questions are: Are the conclusions of the authors really supported by the data? Are the results really as important as described? Are important limitations recognized? Is this work placed properly in the context of other similar results? Do these results confirm existing theory or do they suggest new theoretical advances are needed?

Time permitting, I'll write more to describe how I approach theory papers and review papers.
 
90
12
I don't know that there is a single "best" way to read a paper.

One tip I have is to consider your own goals in the reading. When you have a broad and vague goal such as "I want to learn about ion traps" you'll probably have a harder time reading because it's difficult to quantify a goal like that. You won't know when you're done, and it may even be difficult to assess whether you're even making progress. As a result you end up having to rely on the authors to guide you. Which incidentally is fine for some authors - well-written papers can be enjoyable to read - but I find a lot of academic authors produce stuff that quite honestly is a slog to get through.

I find when I'm working on a project and I want to know how others have accomplished something specific, maybe I'm struggling with how to set up a simulation, I can get through a lot of papers simply looking for those details. That gives me a context in which to read the paper. And once I figure out what the authors have done, I know I can put the paper down and move on to the next one.
Thanks, Choppy. Since I am new to quantum computation, I guess my current goal is to get familiar with ion traps, at least about its theories and current work, to find some groups that I am interesting in, and then to talk to the professors, hoping to get a research position. I agree that some papers are well developed with many pages and details, while others may lose my interests.

As to those less interesting papers, I would try your method, figuring out what the authors tried to accomplish and then move on. Should I go through equations in those papers? Those Hamiltonians really give me a headache.
 
90
12
My first suggestion would be to actually read the paper - beginning to end - every word of text, the abstract, the figure captions. Most fall into the temptation to just skim the paper - read the abstract, figure captions, and bits of the text in the body.

Secondly, I approach different papers differently.

In an experimental paper, my goal is to approach the introduction section with a few goals in mind. I want to recall the answers to these questions: 1) Why is this experiment important? What key work came before this one? What does this experiment add? What key idea is tested here? For the method section, my key questions are: What are the key elements needed to repeat this experiment? What other groups, labs, or facilities are capable of comparable work? Is the method described really adequate for testing the key idea described in the introduction? For the results section, my top questions are: What does the data say about the key idea? What level of confidence does the data provide relative to the focus of the paper? Is there data missing that I wish I could see? Are sufficient analysis details available to repeat the analysis? Could the data have been presented more clearly? For the discussion section my questions are: Are the conclusions of the authors really supported by the data? Are the results really as important as described? Are important limitations recognized? Is this work placed properly in the context of other similar results? Do these results confirm existing theory or do they suggest new theoretical advances are needed?

Time permitting, I'll write more to describe how I approach theory papers and review papers.
Thanks, Dr. Courtney. It is really nice of you to share your method. I am looking forward to the theory and review part.

I have a problem that except for several interesting and detailed papers, I would fell into the temptation you just mentioned, and just read some important part of the text, maybe the beginning and the ending.

I will try to force myself to read more carefully.
 

Dr. Courtney

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In a theory paper, my goal is to approach the introduction section with a few goals in mind. I want to recall the answers to these questions: 1) Why is this theoretical development important? What key work came before this one? Is the current paper analytical or computational? Is it a new technique, or an existing technique applied to a new problem? Does this paper make truly new predictions or is it a more convenient or alternate method for arriving at predictions that have already been provided a different way? For the method section, my key questions are: What are the key elements needed to repeat this development? Is the method described really adequate for applying it to different systems or repeating all the details for the current system? For the results section, my top questions are: Does it contain actual predictions? How close are the predictions to conceivable experiments? Are there comparisons with existing experimental data? Do the comparisons seem "cherry picked" or are they legitimately a challenging test? For the discussion section my questions are: Are the conclusions of the authors really supported by the data? Are the results really as important as described? Are important limitations recognized? Is this work placed properly in the context of other similar results? If the authors claim comparison with experiment "validates" their theory, how legitimate is this claim? Does it support the notion that the theory is likely to work in an array of different systems? Or is the theory likely only applicable to a narrow range of systems?
 

Dr. Courtney

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Review papers are trickier, since they tend to have wide variation in style, organization, purpose, and intended audience. Here are some questions I've found it helpful to try and answer as I'm reading:

What are the 10-12 most important (must read) papers in the primary literature of the field?

Who are the 5 most productive research groups in the field in the past 10-20 years?

What are the most important experimental approaches in the field?

What are the most important theoretical approaches in the field?

In the past 5-10 years, has progress been more experimental or more theoretical?

What are the field's most important questions at present?

Where is experiment stalled and in need of a breakthrough?

Where is theory stalled and in need of a breakthrough?

And most importantly (for me personally), am I within striking distance of making any meaningful contributions with a few thousand hours of effort? Do my skills and resources available to me put me in a position to contribute? Do I have a special skill to let me see something or catch something that others may have missed? Do my immediate co-workers?

If a review paper is insufficient for addressing the above questions, I usually search for a different one that does a better job - alternatively, I review the primary literature myself, which is much more work.
 

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