Daniel Lemire's blog

, 1 min read

Make your research papers easy to skim

Claus Metzner asked us how often we read research papers carefully. He reads fully less than 1% of all research papers he comes across. This must be true of nearly everyone. We read a few titles, fewer abstracts, even fewer introductions, we skim a few papers, but we rarely read entire papers carefully.

We could blame information overload and its academic companion: publish or perish. However, when I read a research paper, most often, I only need to know the main contribution of the research paper. As Claus puts it:

I don’t care too much if the arguments, methods and results of a paper are 100% sound or not. Mostly I am hunting for small reusable items

Hence, we should:

  • Pick good titles giving away the main insight (“The Earth is round” and not “On the geometry of our planet”);
  • Pick good section headers giving away the conclusions of the section (replace “Discussion” by “this drug fails to work”);
  • Use bullet points to outline our results;
  • Use simple schemas and figures.

Ultimately, we should write research papers expecting our readers to barely skim them.