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The Control+F Factor in Scientific Research

Posted by Ian Palmer on May 8, 2012

I've been involved in a lot of discussions recently about mobile access to scientific content via corporate libraries, about PDF annotation, and the multiple re-use scenarios for what happens after a scientific paper is legally obtained.

Knowing that nobody knows researchers better than they know themselves, I decided to take a very simple question that included these various elements to "the (virtual) streets".  

I'm a member of The Scientific Journal Club on (which I highly recommend you join!) and decided recently to pose this question:

Which do you prefer for reading scientific papers?

scientific journal club

The poll isn't yet closed, but the results are nonetheless interesting....nearly 60% stated that they still prefer paper copies for reading papers. Electronic document delivery helps to speed retrieval up, but once in hand it seems that this small focus group still prefers paper.

Maybe it is a generational bias, but maybe not. The comments that have supplemented this poll have shed some additional light on the matter.  Here are a few excerpts:

  • "I prefer to read PDF copies because...I can do keyword searches to find specific names, facts or figures without having to visually scan the entire document."
  • "Personally, I like the tablet...Nonetheless, I will still print PDFs when I plan to do lots of underlining, arrows, remarks, etc. Up till now, no applications to do that on a computer tablet have convinced me."
  • "Papers in PDF format is efficient only for searching. BUT for reading, paper copy is a unique "brain experience"...Computer screen stresses the brain, so when you read an article, you don't have the same efficiency compared to the paper one..."
  • " papers are great when you need to use ctrl F to search for something very specific- much less time consuming... but if you need to read the entire article from end to end - paper copy is much easier on your eyes and your brain."

And this one came in as I was writing this post...
  • "Online papers are good when you read only the summary / abstract. Online/pdf version looks greate when you are viewing at the graphics - in a magnified view/colour images. If you need to read the entire article and make an in depth analysis of results - paper copy will be much useful. I feel it is worth the money when you get one good idea for every cartridge."

Of course, there was a minority who have FULLY adopted the shift to electronic, but I personally remained surprised at the numbers who still prefer paper for good 'ole r-e-a-d-i-n-g as well as the fact that "Control+F" seems to be a driving part of the value proposition behind papers in PDF format.

Reprints Desk and I'm sure our library/information centre customers (at least those who support research) will continue to monitor where researchers are in this from a reality-versus-future perspective and help support all use cases.

In the meanwhile, this leads to another interesting paper-related topic: PDF annotations. There are at least two popular formats so far, which include (1) adding notes directly on the text (eg with a bookmark) and also (2) facebook-like commenting below or around the article itself as a threaded conversation -- basically, what we've used in our journal article productivity web app Bibliogo for current awareness, reference management, collaboration and more.

We're interested in seeing where both formats are used or merged, both for our own uses individually or as part of a workgroup in environments wherever this may be supported.  

So what do YOU prefer and what are you seeing in your work environement?  We'd like to hear from you.

Topics: scientific papers, electronic document delivery, pdf annotation, social scientific software, scientific collaboration, stm mobile research, mobile libary

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