As far as I see, there are two extreme methods of finding out whether someone has already published your idea:

  1. Read everything that has ever been written, and then decide whether any of it corresponds to your idea. Advantage: You’ll be 100% sure that no one has written your idea before you try to publish it. Disadvantage: You’ll be dead before you’re done reading.

  2. Search your memory for whether you’ve read something like it. Advantage: You’ll be done searching in a matter of seconds. Disadvantage: not very fault-proof at all.

Obviously, the optimal search method must lie somewhere between these extremes, and obviously the optimal approach will employ searching keywords.

I am wondering what the optimal approach is, and whether there is a good guide on this. I don’t want to waste many hours on sifting through other people’s writings if there is a more efficient way to do it. I’m sure that searching like this is a skill in and of itself. I’d like to become better at it.

closed as unclear what you're asking by user56834, Buzz, user3209815, nengel, scaaahu Jan 30 '18 at 12:53

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    Search for keywords? – user25112 Jan 27 '18 at 9:49
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    That skill is called literature research, and consists of a few database skills plus common sense in deciding what to read from the results. I recommend reading rather more than less before getting "ideas". – Karl Jan 27 '18 at 10:54
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    Commit your idea to paper and then apply for a patent - if they grant it ... – Solar Mike Jan 27 '18 at 12:01
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    @Programmer2134 Be aware you are not coming off as sincere to all. Other comments seem fine to me. – paparazzo Jan 27 '18 at 16:48
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    @Programmer2134 You're welcome. Point is you question sounds like you think you can become a scientist in some subject by having an idea. You can't. If you don't want to put in he work to become an expert yourself, you need a coworker who already is an expert. – Karl Jan 28 '18 at 16:54

Your first proposal is a little bit extreme. If you are working on a new sorting algorithm, for example, there is no need to read Tolstoy's War and Peace, or biographies on Benazir Bhutto.

My advisor suggested this strategy: Find a few papers strongly related to your research topic. Read through them, paying particular attention to the references. Then find all those references, and read through all of those articles, too.

As you do so, for every article you find that is closely related to your topic, look through the references there, and repeat the process.

Eventually, you'll reach a saturation point, where you'll find a good article, look through the references, and say to yourself, "I've already read all these." When you find yourself saying that routinely, then you're nearing the point where you've thoroughly researched the topic.

This method still isn't foolproof, but it's certainly more efficient than trying to "read everything that's ever been written" and a whole lot more reliable than "search your memory for whether you’ve read something like it."

  • yes, I'm aware of this approach. But it seems still very inefficient to me. The thing is, what if you have an idea for lets say, applying a statistical concept from your field to another field. It might be that the other field uses completely different terminology, so that you cant use a keyword search. Surely it would be very inefficient to first get to the point of a complete overview of that field before being able to publish your result. This is just ONE example, where it seems inefficient to first read an entire literature before being able to publish. – user56834 Jan 27 '18 at 14:07
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    I think the example you've put in a comment below my answer would have been better included in your original question. – J.R. Jan 27 '18 at 14:15
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    @Programmer2134 How about talking to the people from this other field? Maybe let them help you? Oh, you want all the fame for yourself. I'm sorry. – Karl Jan 28 '18 at 16:58

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