Keshav’s How to Read a Paper describes a 3-pass method for effectively & efficiently reading journal articles and research papers.

1st pass (5 minutes)

In the initial pass, we focus on getting a general overview of the topic and the approach. Limit your attention to the following areas:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Section & sub-section titles
  • Conclusions

Also, review the References for other material you should read in order to understand the subject.

2nd pass (1 hour)

The goal of the second pass is to grasp the content of the paper. Review the figures and try to interpret them before reading the captions.

Take notes, in particular:

  • List key points
  • Terms you don’t understand
  • Questions you have

At the end, you should be able to write a summary.

3rd pass

This is a detailed review. At the end, you should be able to recreate the paper, understanding its strengths and weaknesses.

  • Re-create the results
  • Identify assumtions and challenge them
  • Capture your ideas for future work

Literature Surveys

Keshav also covers literature surveys (using another 3-step process)

  1. Search Google Scholar for the terms related to the research area, and do 1 pass on 3 - 5 highly cited papers
  2. Look for references common to the papers, and look up the authors of key papers to see what they’ve been publishing lately. See what conferences they have been presenting at
  3. Scan the recent proceedings the conferences, looking for high-quality related works. Include those with the key papers from step 2, and do a 2-pass read of all of them (watching for other common references)

While reading the papers, keep an eye out for any existing literature survey. Someone might already have compiled what you need.