REPOST:The Ritualistic Nature of Literature Searching

I’m reposting this today as I’ve got a session with our 2nd years on information literacy this afternoon. We’ll be covering Web of Science searches along with other hints and tips for wrangling the scientific literature.

First published February 9th, 2009 on v2.0…

It has just gone 8.30am and on this snowy Monday morning I have reached my desk, set my shoes to dry on the office radiator and booted the computer. Before I make my first cup of tea of the day, I’m blogging. Procrastination? Actually, no, let’s call it a plea for help.
The first thing I do on Monday mornings is log into Web of Knowledge and search for ‘dendrimer’ with Latest(current)week setting. I know, you’re thinking that there is nothing unusual about this. Perhaps you’ve seen my profile and noticed that part of my research is to do with these dendrimer things. It is only natural that I’d search for recent papers published that may be relevant. No, the problem is that I do this every Monday morning that I’m at a desk with a computer, and I have done this ever Monday morning (except for holidays and brief unemployment) since the turn of the millennium.
It has never occurred to me to automate this search in any way, shape or form. It has, if I may suggest such a thing, become a research related ritual. The difference this morning is that it struck me as odd.
As keyword searches go, it is pretty lousy. One lonely keyword spanning a whole subfield of chemistry. No specification for biomedical applications, or environmental metal stuff, no acknowledgment that other keywords may yield relevant results (for example: polymer, hyperbranched polymer etc), and that combinations of them may be quite efficient.
It doesn’t work, yet I do it weekly. One task for today: find a better way! Will update later…

14 Replies to “REPOST:The Ritualistic Nature of Literature Searching”

  1. Thanks! That was fast! I can’t work PubMed, never known why, but I suspect some strange subconscious rebellion against biomed science.

  2. I just got home and had my tea 😉 And yes, FTW.

  3. hm, I guess PubMed would not be the thing then…. that is what I use. Automatic searches, I have a few different words in several searches (steptococci, pneumonia, antibiotc, influenza etc) and then look into them once a week (in theory).
    Part of me understands that I probably should find a new “automatic” way to do this but I like to manually search and look through ToC from specifitc journals. Might not be the most “effective” way but sometimes I find articles that inspire/make my research interesting but I would have never found them by “search” since they do not have the words that I use looking… I mean, “bacteria” is fairly large as search term 😉

  4. The RSS feed sounds like a sensible way to go. Thanks.
    Asa – I never get around to ToC scanning that often.
    I’m curious Stephen, on your webpage you mention ‘Use a browser that supports RSS (most modern ones do)’. What does an old fashioned browser look like? 😉

  5. Fair enough!
    I’ve been playing with Chrome lately and find it really screws up opening PDFs. That sends me back to Firefox (which I have to use for our WebCT system anyway). They both handle RSS OK though.

  6. Katherine> _I never get around to ToC scanning that often._
    haha, I don’t scan ToCs that often (I have a few I get emailed to me which makes it easier). I mainly meant that I think that somethings are harder to make “automatic”.

  7. In one of the printed _Nurture_ (author) magazines that we produced a couple of years ago, Attila Csordas wrote a nice, short piece about how to set up an automatic rss search – but in PubMed I am afraid (presumably you can do the same in PubChem, though?). Please send me your mailing address if you’d like a copy (m.clarke AT However, the article was an edited version of one that had appeared previously on his WordPress blog Pimm, so an alternative would be to do a web search to find that post!

  8. One option, if PubMed isn’t working for you is to try “CiteXplore”: at the EBI. Sadly I can’t see a way to get it to do an RSS feed for a set of search results, which seems like an odd omission these days. But it does cover more than PubMed/Medline.

  9. RSS alerts are possible from PubMed, WoS and Scopus. Curiously it seems that once the RSS is created then anyone can access the results of the feed (at least that is my impression). You can try it in Zetoc too if you want. But if you want more chemistry, you really want to set up an alert in Chem Abs. I’m a bit rusty with SciFinder. It definitely does email alerts and I expect it does RSS by now but not sure.

  10. Thanks Maxine – I’ll try and track down the blog post. Thanks also Hamish and Frank for the comments.
    I’ve never tried CiteXplore before, but I quite like the look of it. I’m slowly making headway in setting up some RSS feeds. I really miss SciFinder. I don’t think we have access at my current institution, and I’m not sure we get Chem Abs in print either. I could spend many a ‘happy’ hour trawling through the cumulative index for a given year.
    I’m now using some of these new methods along side the traditional Monday ritual – well I have to benchmark somehow!

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