One of the major arguments I still hear in favour of journals is that people still need them in order to know where to look for the latest research in their field. With over 1.5-2 million English-language articles in STEM subjects published each year, we each have a monolithic task of filtering out what research is relevant to us.
In terms of research discovery though, journals actually do this very poorly at an individual level. If there are 100 journals in your field, the last thing you want to do is go to each one every day to see if they have published something new. And with around 28,000 journals out there, this can pile up pretty fast for all of us. Searching journal by journal is a waste of time and energy, and these are things that researchers have a lot of pressure on using efficiently and in finite amounts.
There are better ways to discover new research, and here are some of them:
- Create a Google Scholar alert based on keywords, field, or authors. This is the best way of getting constant updates of everything Google Scholar finds, including from what we might consider as ‘obscure’ sources.
- Use Feedly RSS feeds. You can create RSS feeds for any journal, blog, or news feed, and integrate and organise them here. It updates in real time as new content is published, so you can have all journals in one place.
- Twitter. This is where your colleagues will often share the most interesting new research. You can set up ‘alerts’ too for people who constantly tweet new material, making sure never to miss anything.
- Create or join a listserv. A great way of sending or receiving weekly digests of relevant research published in your field.
So all of these options rely on journals merely as a container, not a discovery platform. Discovery is pretty easy as an overlay feature on top of this, and works across multiple journals and publishers. They don’t discriminate based on journal brand or anything, unless you make the explicit and not too smart, decision to do so. If you want to have EVERYTHING as your source of research information, then this is a good way to get started.
These search functions don’t care whether the research is published in Nature or the Journal of Snail Psychiatry – they still appear in the same place, with the same text, and the same sort of information contained within them. Relevance isn’t defined by journals – it’s defined by how you then filter and digest information across these sources.
But what this also tells us is that journals are pretty useless for discovery in the digital age – all we need is a way of searching across venues, which we have multiple efficient ways to do, and then we can stay up to date with pretty much everything published in our field.
Have I missed anything out? How do you stay on top of all the research literature? Let me know in the comments!