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·1 min

Introduction #

Efficiently read a paper is a critical but rarely taught skill.

Describes the three-pass approach and its use in doing a literature survey.

The three-pass approach #

The first pass gives you a general idea about the paper. The second pass lets you grasp the paper’s content, but not its details. The third pass helps you understand the paper in depth.

The first pass #

A quick scan to get a bird’s-eye view of the paper, take about five to ten minutes:

  • carefully read the title, abstract, and introduction
  • read the section and sub-section headings, but ignore everything else
  • read the conclusions
  • glance over the references, mentally ticking off the ones you’ve already read

At the end of the first pass, you should be able to answer the 5Cs:

  • Category: what type of paper is this?
  • Context: which other papers is it related to? which theoretical bases were used?
  • Correctness: Do the assumptions appear to be valid?
  • Contributions: what are the paper’s main contributions?
  • Clarity: Is the paper well written

think as a reviewer: if a reviewer cannot understand the gist after one pass, the paper may be rejected.

The second pass #

read the paper with greater care, but ignore details such as proofs, take up to an hour.

  • look carefully at the figures, diagrams and other illustrations
  • mark relevant unread reference for further reading

The third pass #

Take about four or five hours for beginners, and about an hour for an experienced reader.

  • virtually re-implement the paper

Doing a literature survey #

  • Use academic search engine to find there to five recent papers in the area
    • read their related work
    • a recent survey paper
  • Find shared citations and repeated author names in the bibliography
    • download the key papers (1)
    • find where the best researchers published recently
  • Go to the website for these top conferences or journals and look through their recent proceedings
    • identify recent high-quality related work(2)
    • constitute the first version of survey from (1) and (2)
    • obtain key paper you didn’t find in these papers, obtain and read it

Reference #

Keshav S. How to Read a Paper.