I'm writing a literature review at the moment. I have many many papers to read and I don't have that much time (just one month).

What I do is reading the abstract and then the conclusion and from the conclusion I see what were the key findings and then look them up in the paper and see some details.

Is that good way or should I read them cover to cover?

  • It is different question.
    – Saqqaf
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 17:01
  • 2
    The essence of that question (depth vs. breadth) is the same as this one (skim vs cover-to-cover). Additionally, the two top answers at the linked question answer this questions also. The added context of writing a lit. review is not enough to make this question distinct.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 19:54
  • A question about strategies to write lit. reviews in short time periods would be a different question, and might provide answers closer to what the OP wants.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 19:55

2 Answers 2


Your strategy sounds sound to me. You cannot read the papers from end to end. You need to weed out they papers you will possibly need in your review with as little effort as possible. Title and abstract should be enough. Once you have done this you should be left with a bunch of papers that are likely to be of use to you. While you have looked through them you must also consider how the material can be organized. There are many ways of doing this, chronological order (boring), thematic order (are there subfields?), contradictions (are there compeeting ideas) etc. The point is to try to get the information organized. You need some form of organization fo the papers so that you know how you will treat them in your review.

Once you have found all papers you think you need you can start assembling the information into your text. It is at this point you can start reading them in more detail. It is still not necessary to read every detail. you need to focus on the background to the different conclusions drawn.

The goal of the review should be to provide a new perspective on the field you have chosen so your own familiarity with the field (papers) is key. Try to collect as many as you can; not all will be used.


I fill the following template for each article I read. Some of them I fill only partially at first, to potentially come back later if I interested in spending more time. I found that noting the plan was taking little time and helping enough to be worth doing during the first read.

**** Reference for Humans
**** Abstract
**** Bibtex
     #+BEGIN_SRC bibtex

**** Index Terms
**** Plan
**** Definitions
**** Results
**** Algorithms
**** Questions
**** Summaries
***** By Authors
***** By me
**** My Notes

Hope it helps!

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