AI research

Comment: Should we use AI to make us quicker and more efficient researchers?

The act of summarising is not neutral. It involves decisions and choices that feed into the formation of knowledge and understanding. If we are to believe some of the promises of AI, then tools like Paper Digest (and the others that will follow) might make our research quicker and more efficient, but we might want to consider if it will create blindspots.

Beer, D. (2019). Should we use AI to make us quicker and more efficient researchers? LSE Impact blog.

I have some sympathy for the argument that, as publication in our respective fields increases in volume and speed, it will become impossible to stay on top of what’s current. I’m also fairly confident that AI-generated research summaries are going to get to the point where you’ll be able to sign up for a weekly digest that includes only the most important and relevant articles for my increasingly narrow area of interest. Obviously, “important” and “relevant” are terms that contain implicit assumptions about who I am and what I’m interested in.

Where I differ from the author of the post I’ve linked to is that I don’t see anyone mistaking the summary of the research for the research itself. No-one is going to read the weekly digest and think that they’ve done the work of engaging with the details. You’ll get a 10 minute narrative overview of recent work published in your area, note the 3-5 articles that grab your attention, read those abstracts and then maybe get to grips with 1 or 2 of them. Of course, there are concerns with this:

  • Who is deciding what is included in the summary overview? Ideally, it should be you and not Elsevier, for example.
  • How long will it be before you really can trust that the summary is accurate? But, you also have no way of trusting summaries written by people, other than by doing the work and reading the original.
  • Whatever doesn’t show up in this feed may be ignored. But you can – and should – have multiple sources of information.

However, the benefit of AI is that it will take what is essentially a firehose of research findings and limit it to something you can make sense of and potentially do something with. At the moment I mainly rely on people I trust (i.e. those who I follow on Twitter, for example) to share the research they think is important. In addition to the value of having a human-curated feed there’s also a serendipity to finding articles this way. However, none of those people are sharing things specifically for me, so even then it’s hit and miss. I think an AI-based system will be better for separating the signal from the noise.

Note: I tried to use the service for 3 of my own open access articles and all 3 times it returned the same result, which wasn’t a summary of any of what I had submitted. So, definitely still in beta.

twitter feed

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-16

  • RT @amcunningham: An analysis of clinical reasoning through a recent and comprehensive approach: the dual-process theory #
  • The use of tense in Lit review. I also prefer the present tense to situate the conversation in a current context #
  • 13 Photographs That Changed the World. #
  • “Dropbox Lied to Users about Data Security, Complaint to FTC Alleges” » #
  • Let Them Surf Eliminate cheating by redefining what it means “to cheat” #
  • How I Talk About Searching, Discovery and Research in Courses Good tips for novice & experienced researchers #
  • $10 Million Tricorder X-Prize A tricorder is a (currently) fictional mobile device for medical diagnosis #
  • @the_archive We’re pushing for systematic reviews in most postgrad work in our dept. May go some way to increase status? #
  • Why Social Media Tools Have a Place in the Classroom #
  • @the_archive Just finished a systematic review & agree that they have value. Not about removing them, just being more rigorous #
  • The Problem with Literature Reviews The context is in regard to looking to the past, as opposed to the future #
  • Guidelines on addressing negative comments in social media #
  • Managing your library with tags and filters Helped address many issues I had with my MSc research #
  • Doctor In Your Pocket, WebMD Comes to Android #
  • Interactive 3D Human Body Search Engine Debuts Interesting. Not sure if there’s enough detail for clinical education #
  • Yale Collections Now Free Online More commons resources for academics and students #
  • Organise research on Mendeley with tags and other latent information #
  • RT @primarytrainee: Curriculum should be experienced not delivered #earlyyears #
  • Learning outcomes mean starting at the end and working backwards i.e. figure out where you want to be, then how you’re going to get there #
diigo research

Posted to Diigo 05/15/2011

    • When at the level of writing a thesis or dissertation, a review of literature is critical
    • I was reading 7000 words when I really only needed the 2000 or 3000 that provided new information
    • A literature review is a context forming activity. It lets the reader know that the author has spent at least some time trying to situate her research in an existing body of research. Context is important when you’re building on the intellectual work of other researchers. But…
    • Literature reviews ensure that new ideas follow an existing stream of thought and work

    • literature reviews ensure that most authors will not significantly break from the intellectual heritage of a discipline
    • a review is a backward-facing, historical-contextualizing activity
    • What happens when the very thing we are trying to change (i.e. the higher education system) serves as the foundation for enacting change?
    • Perhaps what we need is periods of writing without literature reviews
    • Sometimes, we need to get passionate about a new idea or dream of a new creation
    • A literature review is a paint-by-numbers scheme that tells us what has been done and gives us a sense of which little areas our research can fill in

UWC writing for publication retreat: day 2

Today has focused on the practical aspect of publication i.e. actually writing, so we didn’t have as many presentations. We began by reviewing some of what was discussed yesterday and adding a few reflections and comments from participants.

Yesterday, one of the presenters suggested the CARS (link downloads PDF) model for structuring an Introduction. Today, someone suggested that that particular model is based mainly on English language publications from the UK,USA and Australia. Some have suggested the OARO model as an alternative, based on a synthesis of publications from other countries:

Open A Research Option (OARO) model

  • Attract a readership
  • Establish credibility
    • Share background knowledge (own research / anecdotal experiences)
    • Justify the need for the research (answering the “why” question)
    • Present interesting thoughts (who decides what’s “interesting”?)
    • Introduce the general goal
  • Offer a line of enquiry (open questions and explore)
  • Introduce the topic

Remember that it’s difficult to build a model that is based on cross-disciplinary publications.

A review of the writing process

“An increasing number of references in publications may point to a form of academic insecurity”

How well are you telling your own story?

Instead of using pre-defined headings e.g. Discussion, try to highlight the major finding / point and use that for the heading instead

Each phrase should be used to advance your argument. Make sure that the pieces fit together to create a coherent whole.

Writing about the topic begins broadly (macro view) and then narrows to get to the crux of the article (micro view), then expands again to place the results into a broader context e.g. hourglass shape

Review of the literature (because it’s a process, not a thing)

Entering occupied territory” → can be intimidating

Be wary of absolute statements about the review i.e. what it should or shouldn’t do or be

Working with literatures:

  • Locate the work in a field
  • Create a mandate for the research
  • Informs the methods and theorisation
  • Specify the contribution

Learning to speak with authority, adopting a critical yet generous stance to the scholarship of the field, and establishing authority to speak, is an enormous challenge (Kamler & Thomson, 2006)

Find patterns in the literature


  • Chronological
  • Geographical
  • Definitions
  • Genre
  • Concepts
  • Methods
  • General → specific
  • Policy / practice

Try to avoid “Smith et al (2000) have suggested that…”, “They emphasise the following…” Rather, try to put your take on their research first, and then credit the other researchers

Trying to convince the reader that there’s an organising mind at work (Swales, 2004)

Literature review isn’t about constructing a thing, it’s a process that’s embedded throughout the article