Keeping Up with the Literature: 5 Ways to Track and Read Research Online

This article presents tools for sorting through the millions of articles published every year so that you can keep up in your field.

Updated on September 15, 2014

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According to the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, approximately 28,000 scholarly journals collectively publish nearly two million articles each year. Consequently, sorting through the literature can be a daunting task. Fortunately, tools are available for seeking out literature and for providing updates on field-specific publications.

Learn more about the top fields, journals, and institutions in scholarly publishing with AJE's free Scholarly Publishing Report.

1. Literature-based search engines

These tools return citation results based on keywords, such as author names, article titles, or journal types. A few examples of these websites are presented below, and a comprehensive list of academic databases and search engines is available on Wikipedia for further options.

  • PubMed allows users to search millions of biomedical citations from MEDLINE, life sciences journals, and online books.
  • PubCrawler is a web service that scans daily updates to the PubMed and GenBank databases and alerts scientists to new entries that align with their interests.
  • At PubChase, users can search biomedical literature, create libraries, and get recommendations based on saved articles.
  • AGRIS is a search engine for agricultural science and technology data, statistics, articles, and multimedia.
  • ERIC, The Education Resources Information Center, is an organization that has indexed education journals since the 1960s. Users have the option to specifically search peer-reviewed articles and full-text articles.

2. Social networking sites

Networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are used as communication tools by researchers. Users can stay up-to-date on newly published articles or upcoming articles by following the posts of relevant researchers or organizations in their fields. These websites also offer multimedia, such as video and graphics, that may enhance understanding of the related research. Additionally, social bookmarking sites such as Delicious track bookmarks with context and sharing capabilities and are another social media option for researchers. (See our Researcher Tools Review of Delicious.)

3.'Table of content' (TOC) alerts

TOC e-alerts (e.g., SpringerAlerts, Wiley eTOC, and Nature e-alert) are offered by publishers as a means of distributing the TOCs of newly published journal issues. These alerts usually include "early view" and online-only articles. To receive TOC alerts, you may visit the publisher's website and sign-up using your e-mail address. Alternatively, JournalTOCs is a searchable database of scholarly journal TOCs that is not limited to a single publisher.

4. Listservs

Listservs are another option for receiving journal TOCs, calls for papers, and dataset announcements via email distribution lists. Listservs are often managed by universities or scientific organizations.

5. RSS feeds

RSS feeds allow users to track particular websites by subscribing to automatic, timely updates on website content. RSS feeds are considered an updated version of webpage ‘bookmarking'. After subscribing, a series of headlines and/or summaries are listed via a feed reader. Readers are available as add-ons in internet browsers, such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari, or as software that specializes in organizing and downloading the content for offline use.

As increasingly more journals and articles appear each year, it is important to be able to efficiently navigate the numerous literature resources and identify articles that are relevant to your research. The web-based tools outlined here are good starting points for keeping up with this literature.

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