HOWTO read papers

HOWTO read papers

Why should you read papers?

  • To learn new knowledge
    • understand what it is
  • To search your research topic
    • find what are missing in the paper
  • To prepare your paper submission
    • test whether your paper is still competitive after reading the paper
  • To stimulate your brain
    • discover new perspective for the same problem
  • Just for fun

How many papers should I read?

  • How many papers are publishing a year in your field?
    • 400 papers per year
  • Systems research: about 400 papers per year
    • 10 top-tier conferences * 40 papers
  • Security research: about 400 papers per year
    • 4 top-tier conferences * 100 papers
    • IEEE S&P (Oakland), NDSS, CCS, USENIX Security
  • Read one third of them
    • Read 120 papers a year
    • Read two papers every week

Effective paper reading for a new area

  • If you are reading papers on new to you, you first understand the landscape to understand common terms, key idea of major research, what are important aspects in the area.
  • First, read lecture slides.
    • Good instructors deliver organized knowledge for newbies to easily catch up.
    • They covers the classic, important papers, which is common ground of the area.
  • Second, read papers covered in the graduate-level advanced (seminar) classes.
    • There are two types of seminar classes: one is designed to cover historically important papers (e.g., micro-kernel, exokernel, spin in OS design) and another is designed to address new important papers (e.g., Multikernel, Arrakis).
    • Find out what are historically important ones and recently important ones and read some of them.
  • Third, check out papers published in the top-tier conferences published within three years in the area
    • Check out the most recent research interest of the area

Effective paper reading for your area

  • Do not read any random paper
    • Priorities are top-tier conference papers followed by very good workshop papers (e.g., HotOS, HotStorage, HotCloud, SoCC, Systor, ApSYS), industry conference presentations (e.g., Linux Plumbers Conference, BlackHat), and top-tier journal papers (e.g., TOCS, TC, TPDS, TOS).
  • Read interactively
    • First read abstract, introduction, and conclusion
    • Then stop reading the paper and try to answer following questions:
    • Q1: Why is the problem that the paper is trying to solve important?
    • Q2: How will you solve the problem?
    • Q3: How is this related to your problem?
  • Read critically
    • After reading the paper to the end, ask following questions:
    • Q4: What are main claims of the paper?
    • Q5: Are all the claims are backed by evaluation results?
    • Q6: Is there any result that is not explained or is contradict to the claims?
    • Q7: What are not considered? How can you improve this?

After reading the paper, summarize it

  • Spend 5 minutes to summarize it including:
    • Short summary of the paper (1-2 sentences)
    • Short summary of the problem (1-2 sentences)
    • Pros and cons of the paper
    • One new idea to extend this paper

In a month later, review your summary

  • Review your summary to discover your cool idea in a new context

Further reading