I keep reading European Conference on Computer Vision, International Conference on Pattern Recognition, and others, and I find so much in common in those papers.

For example, half the papers seem like: X Algorithm combined with Y algorithm tested on Z database and was better than A in this category but worse than A in that category.

There are many top journals and top conferences with > 1000 papers, in a year, in this field. In addition to this we would have to go through all the tier 2, tier 3 conferences for lack of a similar piece of work.

While working on organic solar cells I found the same problem. I saw 20 different papers on extracting parameters from a single-diode/double-diode/XYZ model.

So how do we know if something relevant is already published?

  • There appear to be three unique questions here. The title question and the two questions on the last line of the message. All are very different questions with different answers. Please chose one.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 9:06
  • 4
    "how do we know if something relevant is already published ?" Thats kinda the whole point of workign in research/academia. Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 10:45
  • Well think of it from a perspective of an individual student(Bachelors) just reading papers on a topic of interest online.
    – Naresh
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 10:52
  • 1
    subscribe to google alert, create a scholar account and keep an eye of the suggestions. I believe you won't miss ONE..
    – seteropere
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 4:35
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    I wrote a blog post on this topic that may be useful. Commented May 8, 2014 at 7:46

3 Answers 3


That title summarises a large fraction of all research ;-)

You need to spend a significant amount of time browsing through scientific literature. This illustration from PhD comics illustrates the problem:

References from PhD Comics

My strategy is as follows:

  1. I start with an arbitrary paper with a title that seems relevant. Let's call this paper A.

  2. Using an online service such as Scopus (payment or subscription required), I look for:

    1. All references, e.g. papers cited by A.

    2. All citations, e.g. papers that cite A.

  3. Both the references and citations can be sorted by the number of citatons, so you get the most highly cited papers first. Select the papers that seem relevant (at this stage, reading the abstract is usually good enough).

  4. For all relevant papers left in step 3, repeat step 2. You should find considerable overlap already. By now, you should have already found the important papers as well as one or more review articles.

  5. Iterate steps 2–4 until your hard disk is full ;-)

Of course, if you iterate this process indefinitely, you will soon have downloaded all scientific research ever published. But by being selective but not too selective, this process should lead you to any relevant publications. Even if nobody has cited the relevant publications, the relevant publications themselves should cite other publications, so via step 2.1 you will still find it.

The only caveat here is that databases like Scopus are incomplete, probably in particular when it comes to conference proceedings (in my field, those are rarely relevant). Maybe other databases work better in your field. Hopefully, there is a scientific database that is reasonably complete for relevant publications in your area of research!

  • Thanks!! This seems to be a more effective and efficient method than just checking on google scholar!!
    – Naresh
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 9:57
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    @gerrit: What other services but Scopus can you recommend?
    – Dror
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 21:09
  • @Dror I use mostly Scopus. My girlfriend uses adsabstracts but I think that's only for her field. When I don't have access to a journal I do a web search on the title to see if I can find a PDF copy somewhere else (for example, on the author website).
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 21:30
  • @Dror: Consider using Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) and Web of Science (isiknowledge.com/WOS) Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 8:14
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    This method also has the benefit of Plausible deniability. Meaning if someone says, "I did this years ago and you didn't even cite me," you can effectively say "How was I suppose to find your paper when you didn't even cite any of the most important papers on your topic?" Basically, it would be hypocritical of them to accuse you of not finding them when they didn't bother to find anyone else. Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 19:46

Gerrit has given a good summary of how to perform a bibliographic search. On this topic, I'll add two comments:

  • Review articles and academic theses, when well written, are invaluable. They contain a lot of information and citations, often in a more “relaxed” format than a pure research paper.
  • Try to identify one or two journals/conferences that are central to your field, and a few authors that are big names: then, subscribe to their RSS feeds or set up web alerts for new publications by these teams.

In addition to direct search of the literature, a good way to keep on top of the papers published in a given field is to attend conferences and discuss with a lot of people. Poster sessions are particularly good for that. Do not hesitate to bring to the poster presenter questions such as “so, in your opinion, what’s the biggest break among the recent literature?”.

  • Yes, I've found theses of Caroline Rebecca Pantofaru, Pieter Abbeel and Carlos Guestrin to be interesting conceptually. However, most of this is just being done on a random basis as of now. I just find a paper -> seems interesting -> read it -> put up a post or two on my blog -> add it to my 'read' papers list on citeulike.org and then forget. Following conferences is something I just recently started doing. Unfortunately, the lack of major conferences in my area in addition to shoe-string travel budgets(I am an undergrad student) limits actual physical visits.
    – Naresh
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 10:01
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    A good review paper or theses is worth its weight in gold. Especially, considering that they've done a lot of the sifting for you, in addition to being more accessible.
    – rcollyer
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 18:21

Good tips above, I have one more: * Collect good search words, e.g. in a mind-map. Maybe different synonyms are used by slightly different authors? Try to think of different ones, check which actually really work.

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