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Managing the Scientific Literature

A Definitive Guide to Taming the Scientific Literature

Managing the scientific literature can feel like a full-time job. How do you ensure you don’t miss an article that says the same thing as the thesis you’ve been working on for 3 years? How many new articles in your field have been published this month, and how are you going to find time to read them all? What’s the best way to write a literature review? 

There are lots of tools to help you stay on track, and we’re here to take the hard work out of managing the scientific literature, so that you can focus on doing your best work in the lab.

Whether you’re looking for tips on the best citation manager for your thesis, a guide to advanced search on PubMed, or an explanation of what Boolean operators are, we’ve got something for everyone, at every stage of research.

The Complete Guide to Managing the Scientific Literature
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    Getting Started

    How to Manage the Scientific Literature

    Whether you’re just starting out in research or you’re a seasoned pro, there’s no denying that managing the scientific literature is a mammoth task.

    We’ve pulled together all our top tips on how to carry out a literature review, how to choose between physical and online storage of papers, and how to set up RSS feeds.

    Check out the sections below for your one-stop-shop on all things science literature-based. Happy reading!

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    Keeping Track of Your Literature

    We show you how to get organized and develop a system to stay on top of your literature reviews.

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    7 Tips to Improve Your Literature Survey

    Read our top tips to help you get the most out of your scientific literature surveys.

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    Useful Tips to Keep on Top of New Literature

    Keeping track of new literature can be a time-consuming process. Here are some helpful hints and tips to help you keep up to date.

    Literature Hub

    Reflect: A Tool to Aid Your Understanding of Online Articles

    Learn how to use Reflect to process the text of any web page and mark up biological words and terms.

    Software Apps

    Take the Hard Work Out of Searching For Papers

    It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, and managing the scientific literature is a huge task.

    Check out our guide to tools such as PubCrawler, Trello, and LabGuru and discover how these nifty software apps and tools can save you time and effort.

    Literature Hub

    7 Types of  Software Apps You NEED in Your (Science) Life

    Here we take you through 7 of the best science software apps that can save you time and money!

    Literature Hub

    Using PubCrawler: How to Speed Up Your Literature Searches by Crawling

    PubCrawler automatically searches PubMed and GenBank for queries that you specify, and emails you the results, helping you stay on top of your literature searches.

    Tops Tips for Reading Papers

    How to Read—and Write—A Scientific Paper

    When you’re reading umpteen scientific papers a month, you need to make sure you’re taking the important information from each of them.

    Reading effectively is a really important skill, so check out our top tips on how to read a paper effectively, and discover some handy hints for writing up your own research.

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    How to Read a Scientific Paper Efficiently

    We show you how to read a scientific paper efficiently, so you can make the most of your reading time.

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    Writing a Scientific Review: Gathering Information, Writing, and Creating New Knowledge

    Read our top tips on how to write a scientific review, from gathering your information to getting it published.

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    How To Read Manuscripts (and Anything Else) Twice As Fast

    Learning how to speed read can save you a bunch of time; we’ve outlined some simple steps that will dramatically improve your reading speed.

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    RTFP (Read the F*****g Paper)

    The critical review of scientific papers is a fundamental skill for researchers. Check out our tips to get the most out of reading a paper.

    Recent Articles

    The Latest Articles on Managing the Literature

    Literature Hub

    Three Cool Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do On PubMed

    This article provides interesting insider PubMed tips, including how to use search filters and how to set up automatic search alerts.

    A picture of a young girl sitting atop a large pile of books with an open book on her lap to represent tips for improving your literature survey

    7 Tips to Improve Your Literature Survey

    Read our top tips to help you get the most out of your scientific literature surveys.

    Got a Question or Suggestion?

    Didn't find what you were looking for? Or perhaps you have some tips and tricks that we haven't covered here?

    Get in touch and let us know so we can continue to improve the information we share!

    Contact us here.

    Reference and Citation Managers

    Find the Right Reference Manager To Suit You

    After years of hard work in the lab, you’re finally writing up your thesis. But what is that scribbled note in your lab book? Is that a reference? Where did it come from? How will you ever find it again? 

    Reference/citation management software can help you get your citations and references in order, eliminating (some of) the pain of writing up and ensuring that you don’t fall foul of correct citation formats.

    We’ve summed up the key features of the best citation managers so that you can make the best choice for your work.

    A table with stacked document wallets and folders to represent the reference manager Zotero

    How to Get Organized With Reference Managers for Science – Zotero

    Organizing your files is simple with Zotero; we’ve got the lowdown on functionality, usability, and access.

    An open drawer of a wooden filing cabinet containing papers and documents to represent the reference manager Endnote

    How to get Organized With Reference Managers for Science – EndNote

    Learn more about the key features of Endnote to work out if it’s the right reference manager for you.

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    How To Get Organized With Reference Managers for Science – ReadCube

    Discover more about how Papers can help you keep on top of your references.

    Stylized image of a laptop with drawers extending from the screen to represent the reference manager Mendeley

    How To Get Organized With Reference Managers for Science – Mendeley

    Learn how Mendeley allows you to organize a library containing your favorite articles and generate citations and bibliographies while writing papers.

    A bearded man dressed formally holding various documents and covered in sticky notes to represent getting started with reference managers for scientists

    How To Get Organized With Reference Managers for Science – An Overview

    Check out our rundown of the key features of the most popular reference managers to work out which one will be best for you and your research.

    Open Access and Peer Review

    Learn More About the Publication Process

    You already spend a lot of your time reading (and writing) scientific papers, but how much do you know about the publication process? How do you know you can trust what you’re reading?

    Find out more about the peer-review process for scientific papers and learn about the models for making research freely available.

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    How to Share Your Journal Articles Legally

    Sharing research articles legally isn’t always straightforward, even when you are the author. Find out why sharing your article could put you in a sticky situation and learn how to avoid it!

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    How to Access Journal Articles Behind Paywalls

    Researchers need to access journal articles, but paywalls can sometimes put up a fight. Discover the different legal ways you can access paywalled articles.

    open access

    Open Access: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    We review Open Access publishing models so you can make an informed decision about what is best for you and your research.

    Literature Hub

    Publish and Perish: Post-Publication Review and Why YOU Should Get Involved

    Getting involved in the post-publication review of scientific papers can seriously improve your critical analysis skills: here’s how.

    3 wooden blocks being stacked on top of each other: a red block with a frowning face, a yellow block with a neutral face, and a green block with a smiling face to represent peer review.

    Can a New Peer Review Paradigm Decrease Time to Publication?

    Can peer-review models like Peerage of Science ease a major bottleneck in scientific publishing? We assess the pros and cons of this model.


    Take Your PubMed Searches to the Next Level

    You’re probably already familiar with PubMed, but are you making the most of its functionality? We’ve pulled together a bunch of articles to help you!

    A picture of a man holding binoculars with a surprised expression to represent learning how to improve your PubMed searches

    18+ Ways to Improve your PubMed Searches

    Are you getting the most out of your PubMed searches or are you wasting lots of time slogging through pages of results? We’ve compiled some top tips to help you refine your searches.

    Literature Hub

    Out With the Old: New PubMed Search Tips

    PubMed has had a makeover. Find out where your favorite features have moved to and what’s changed in this shiny new version.

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    Setting up a PubMed Alert in 3 Easy Steps

    The easiest way to keep abreast of what’s going on in your scientific field is to set up a PubMed alert. We show you how.


    A–Z of Common Literature Search and Review Terms

    Is there a search term you’re struggling to understand, or are you flummoxed by MeSH terms? We’ve compiled a glossary of literature search and review terms to help you out. Click on the arrow next to the term to see the definition.

    The words ‘AND’, ‘OR’ and ‘NOT’. They define relationships between search terms and make searches in library databases more precise by narrowing, expanding, or excluding results from your searches.

    A term or descriptor that sums up the essence of a topic.

    A contextual evaluation of the academic literature on a particular subject. A good literature review surveys the existing literature and provides an evaluation and discussion of it.

    The National Library of Medicine’s bibliographic database of life sciences journal articles, with a focus on biomedicine. The MEDLINE database covers articles from 1966 to the present.

    Medical Subject Headings. A controlled hierarchical nomenclature produced by the National Library of Medicine and used to index, catalogue, and search information relating to biomedicine and health.

    A publishing model whereby research outputs are made available at no cost to the reader, so that anyone can benefit from accessing that research.

    Software that enables writers to record and use bibliographic citations in their work and generate bibliographies.

    Really Simple Syndication. A web feed that enables users to access updates to websites. Whenever new content is published by a website, the details of that content are sent to the user.

    Replacing the end of a word with an asterisk to let you search for a stem word with all its ending variants.

    Extensible Markup Language. A computer language that uses tags to describe content. This data format allows documents to be read by both humans and machines.


    If you need more help with aspects of PubMed, check out their FAQs here.

    We've also compiled a list of further reading on managing the scientific literature:

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