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One of the key challenges I have faced whilst transitioning to university life and further has been the independence bestowed upon oneself to find out information on their own. What is the best way to research upon a completely alien topic, with which you have little-to-no prior experience? I am trying to go through research papers, but it all seems so distorted for now as I don't feel the research papers really cover the topic I want to look into. What's the best way to go through research papers and best understand them?

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My own experience is more focused on medical imaging, where one modality may be completely different than another, but do not requires great prior knowledges such as in Mathematics or Physics where you will need a lot more background before learning about the topic itself

  • I always try to find summarised information online as some of my first step. It can be a blog from someone doing research, a wikipedia page, a wiki page related to the subject, a medium article. The information may not be of the highest quality, but it is often described in more simpler term
  • For research paper, finding a recently published literature review related to your subject can be very useful. Those papers often includes detailed introduction, history background, and will list a lot of important paper of the field that you will want to read.
  • When reading a paper about the subject, don't try to understand everything. You won't be able, especially if the fields is very far from what you understand. Some section, such as the abstract, the results and the conclusion may be easier to understand first. If you can, through them, understand what was done in the paper in a general sense, that's a first step.
    • Then you may want to read again the paper after some time, and you'll be able to pick on more information.
  • Papers describing similar experience in the same field tend to have similar introduction (in broader line) but different details. Reading and compiling the information you can find in many of those papers will help you
    • Understand better the topic (as the introduction usually describes the problem at hand in the paper)
    • Get a list of previous work done and the issue they tackled, to understand better where the research is standing right now

I think something important, that I will stress one more, is to really not try to understand everything and try to extract some part of the topic you're learning about, focus on them, and get an understanding of what help make it, but not too deep. Otherwise you'll end up in a rabbit hole for each little things and it will be impossible.

You may encounter issues such as paper with too many references to previous work. Other questions on this site will also help you to decide if you should read in depth or breadth and generally how to read papers

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