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Google Reader for Academics

Google Reader for Academics

readerGoogle reader is one the weapons available in an academic’s arsenal to combat information overload in the Internet era.

Part of research involves keeping oneself informed of the development happening in one’s own field as well as other closely related. It should not come as a surprise that these avenues of information are diverse, but nevertheless rich when it comes to the Internet.

Part of your research schedule may involve tracking literature, most probably using Pubmed. Still, most use journal eTOCs (electronic Table of Contents) that pop into your email inbox whenever an issue is published. Granted these methods get the job done, but there is more a efficient way of doing this routine. This opinion is not only echoed by techies but by several others in academia as well. I wrote a post on the same topic, albeit a very brief one, which attracted emails from several academics and is why I thought of making a detailed post at Bitesize Bio.

Almost all Publishers these days provide an RSS (Really Simple Syndication – more here) feed for their publications. You can add feeds to Google Reader by copying the RSS feed link and pasting it in the Add Subscription dialog box. Once you add your subscription to Reader, it gets updated regularly. What makes Reader an indispensable tool is the intuitive interface that it provides. Although the interface comes with a plethora of features to ensure ease of use, let me point out a few interface options that I use and also find would be ideal for academic use. It would be a good idea to go through the getting started guide that google offers which introduces you to Reader.

The keyboard shortcuts are one of the reasons that made it take off with users who process high volume information; needless to say it is the most popular feature of the interface. Reader comes with an array of shortcuts that you can use to control the interface and skim through the content available. Using the ‘j’ key you can move to the next item in your subscription and with ‘k’ you can move to the previous item. Once you start using these shortcuts you can practically rip through the hundreds of items with amazing efficiency.

I use Reader with list view enabled which just shows you the title of an item, there is also another view which shows you the entire item. The list view allows you to easily omit items that you’re not interested in, further the tagging system comes in handy with which you can tag items as “readlater” “followup” and so on which allows you to organise your feeds by the action that you wish to perform. This action can be performed with a single key press “t”.

GreaderAs all things on the web today, Reader also comes with some aspect of social networking. You can share items you find interesting to fellow reader users. Reader offers you a page where you can display your shared items, which is also inclusive of a feed which makes things easier when your friends need to know your shared items if they’re not on reader. I find this essential to share literature and to pick up from like-minded researchers.

Here’s method that I use to read through my subscriptions which I find very efficient:

  • Keep your Reader view as list
  • Move through items with the “n” & “p” shortcut which moves the cursor focus to the next and previous item respectively.(note: this does not open the item, it just selects the item)
  • The title of the item itself would in most instances let you know its relevancy and significance
  • If you find it relevant, open the item with “o”. If you don’t, mark the item as read with “m”
  • Need to read it later in detail – tag it with “t” as “readlater”, if it’s really important to me I star it with “s”, simply hit “shift-s” to put it on your shared items – which your colleagues can keep up with
  • You can select tagged items by their tag – with “gt” which brings up a screen with all your tags

Now the Reader method of updating oneself with literature is only efficient if you can pull in data from various sources. That would be a post for another day, but here is a tip: If you’re interested in keeping up with the publications of a specific author, perform a Pubmed search – export the search as RSS feed – Subscribe to it via Reader. Voila! Anytime there’s an entry on Pubmed for the specific author it pops up in your Reader inbox automatically.

I’ve also put up a screencast showing how exactly I use Google reader (which would help you make more sense of the above if you’re new to Reader). The idea of using RSS feeds to manage research literature has infact gotten so popular that there are entire web clients designed exclusively for the purpose (I must also add that they still have not caught up with Google Reader, but worth watching).

Happy Reading.

TIP: If you find Reader as daily necessity, then I suggest you try out the Google Gears plug-in feature for Reader, which will allow you to go through 2000 of your feeds even when you’re not connected to the Internet. Oh did I mention that Reader is accessible through your mobile as most of Google’s services.

If you’re the always connected type then Reader satisfies your requirements also

You can check out more tips and tricks on using Google Reader from the following links.



  1. jonathan on July 20, 2008 at 11:46 am

    @such.ire – you don’t have to worry about pesky Cell Press or any journal TOC service for that matter. I’ve found a very useful way to use Google Reader is transform my four or five most common PubMed searches into RSS feeds. This way whenever anything, from ANY journal, come out that matches my criteria, it shows up in my Google Reader as a new article. I love it.

  2. Kurt on March 6, 2008 at 5:40 am

    Very annoying that the ASM journals don’t offer RSS feed.

  3. such.ire on March 4, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    I love my RSS reader, but I find it annoying that Cell publications don’t have feeds for their early online publications, and so I must continue to letting them crowd my inbox.

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