How to Read Papers Efficiently

If you’re a researcher, or a grad student, or even just a diligent developer, you probably spend a great deal of time reading technical papers. Some of those will be of little or no use, some will be beyond your current understanding, and some will be very valuable and extend your knowledge. Piotr Limanowski has a very nice post that discusses strategies for reading those papers as efficiently as possible. Part of that, of course, is identifying which ones are worth further effort and which can be abandoned or saved for later.

Limanowski recommends a 3-pass approach in which the first two passes essentially winnow those papers worth spending time on and the final pass is where you read carefully and take notes. What I particularly like about his strategy is that he leverages Emacs and Org mode during the third stage. He uses pdf-tools to annotate the PDFs and Org mode to take notes that are linked to the PDF.

I’ve been intending to install pdf-tools for some time but the documentation says it’s not really supported under macOS so I’ve been reluctant to try. After reading Limanowski’s post, I followed the directions at the pdf-tools githup site and installed pdf-tools without a problem. It really is much better than the default Emacs PDF functionality.

Even if you’re not reading technical papers, you should take a look at Limanowski’s post. If you do anything with PDFs, it will give you some useful hints for improving your workflow. If you do read technical papers, the strategy he recommends is worth considering.

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