1 in 2 students say more than 50% of the papers on their reading ‘To - Do’ list never get read*

How do you choose which research papers to read?

Let’s get straight to the point.

With 8 papers a minute being published, there’s no time to waste!**

You need to focus. So consider this first, what is important to you right now?

  • Finding papers tackling similar problems or exploring research goals
  • Learning about the concepts and methodologies used or the effect that the research had
  • Seeking different perspectives or information to help you to comprehend

What triggers students to want to read more?

84% of the students we surveyed state methodology is one of the triggers that makes them want to read a research paper comprehensively
84% of the students we surveyed, state methodology is one of the triggers that makes them to want to read a research paper more comprehensively.

If you know what you are looking for or where to begin, it will make your decision much easier.

Help you to avoid searching aimlessly or missing important bits by just reading the abstract or whilst trying to skim read everything. Get straight to the insight and into the details of what’s of interest, right now.

There’s 3 steps that you can put into action straight away, to help you get through your reading list and into the insights faster.

STEP 1 - Define your goals

If you don’t have a clear goal, you’ll miss the insights. So, think about why you are reading and write down a list of the things that you want to know.

For example, if you are conducting a literature review and looking for papers related to your topic of interest, you will want to know:

  • What is the problem statement?
  • What is the research goal?
  • Is it relevant to my research focus?

To avoid cognitive overload, focus on the questions that are important right now. It’s likely you will return to investigate different aspects of papers as your research, understanding and knowledge develops.

For example, when you are at the stage of designing your own research and critically evaluating the validity and reliability of methodologies, you will want to know:

  • What methodology was used?
  • What was the effect or outcome?
  • Was there any bias or problems with the way it was done?

3 methods to help you to decide which information is or could be important:

  • Srinivasan Keshav’s Three-Pass approach, which involves reading different aspects of the paper at each pass to decide whether to move to the next, more time intensive, stage
  • IMRaD (Information, Method, Results and Discussion) used to structure scientific articles, helps you to focus and consider every section
  • Reviewing the abstract, figures, tables and results and conclusion to get an overview of the paper

STEP 2 - Prioritise what to read first

Now you know what you are looking for, it’s time to decide which paper to select.

If you’ve already collated a list of papers, here’s what you can use to decide which to prioritise

Questions to ask or things to look for


Does this relate to my work?


Does it say something new that I haven’t read before?


Does it claim some intriguing results or findings?


How many times has the paper been cited?


Are you interested in the latest research or resurfacing forgotten tracks?

Tables / figures

Can you get what you need from the figures, tables and images?


What do others say about the paper, in the comments or via Twitter?

Don’t ponder too long on where to begin, as the insights are often hidden within the paper, you just need to decide whether it is worth taking the time to look.

Did you know? There’s advanced algorithms, which means you no longer need to create a list of keywords or conduct a full search of what exists before you begin your research! Start with one paper and find connections that adapt to your interests with RAx

STEP 3 - Get to the insights

Remember the questions and what it is that you are looking for to stay focussed.

Choose how you are going to extract the insights

Whilst research papers are structured, the insights you need may be scattered throughout the paper and so you need to decide how you are going to go about it.

Common techniques include skim reading and scanning the paper. This takes skill to spot the clues, knowing when to speed up and slow down, to ensure you don’t miss the key points. Start with the section headings to help locate the answers to what you are looking for.

There is a quicker way to get to the insights of a research paper!

Get to the insights of a research paper faster with RAx

RAx takes the content of your research papers and uses advanced algorithms to organise it into sections such as the assumptions, novelty, methodologies, observations, speculations and more. So you can get straight to what’s of interest to reduce the time you spend on deciding what to read and enabling you to read with purpose.


Every research paper contains new insights, to fuel your knowledge or trigger your mind, but before you know it you’re consumed in a paper and hours can pass by. Adopting these simple steps will help you to stay focussed on your goals and get to the insights that you are looking for.

  1. Define your goals and what you want to know
  2. Use data points to select and prioritise your first paper
  3. Get to the insights by focussing on your goals

Finally, don’t forget, there is technology to help you to decide what to read and to help you to get to the insights faster!

Next Read: How to decide which research papers to read with RAx

*Based on How do you decide which research papers to read? survey conducted by RAx 2020

**Based on Total Documents published in 2019 - Scimago - accessed 01 Mar 2021