Finding real gems

I don’t know about you, but sometimes all I want out of reading papers is pure basic science. I get particularly upbeat when I see an occasional outlandish structure that reminds me that not all ground states are created equal. Truth be told, with fewer and fewer people doing “blue sky” research, it is difficult to find such examples in the sea of utility-oriented manuscripts. While it is easy to get inundated with the amount of information being published, TOC (Table of Contents) graphics offer a glimpse into what to expect in a given paper. These devices were introduced by the publishers only about 13-14 years ago, which sounds crazy given how indispensible they seem to be. The trouble is that some of the most interesting vignettes and detours hardly ever appear in these graphics. As a result, it is virtually impossible to find real gems unless you read the whole thing (and who has the time for that?). Here is a good example: based on the TOC graphic alone, I could have easily missed some of the fascinating details in the paper from Hosoya and co-workers that appeared in Org. Lett. not too long ago. Upon perusing the contents of the article, I saw one of the characterized by-products. To me, this happens to be one of the most interesting results in this contribution.


2 thoughts on “Finding real gems

  1. Indeed who has the time for that? I’m conducting a small informal survey on ‘how to read-as many as possible – scientific papers and not dye trying’. Do you have a technique you might want to share? Mine is: Abstract -> conclusions -> Results -> (comp.chem.) methods (if i want to reproduce or -rarely- if I find something suspicious) -> intro (i’m usually sold on the topic so no need to read the sales pitch for me).

    I was just recently pointing out this post to a student of mine while discussing the importance of TOCs.
    Thanks a lot!

    • Yes, this is a good system. I do this too, more or less, but I also pay special attention to whether or not there is a clear goal and/or statement of a research question at the end of the introductory paragraph. I then see if this goal has been reached (this must be in the conclusions). Otherwise papers are unfocussed and I get easily bored.

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