How researchers discover, read and use scholarly literature: international trends

A new international study explores how researchers find and use scholarly literature for their work and finds differences by age, discipline and geography.

A survey of researchers from around the world conducted during 2018 paints a picture of scholars' current reading patterns and perceptions, and investigates whether factors such as their academic discipline, age, or geographic location have an impact on their reading patterns.

The survey found that journal articles remained the most highly rated form of information resource, followed by books, conference proceedings, textbooks and professional magazines, with blogs and social media featuring near the bottom of the list. Scholars read on average almost twenty articles per month and spend 234 hours each year reading scholarly articles for their work – equivalent to a month of eight hour days.

This study found that over 90% of article readings are obtained through electronic means and respondents ranked all key features of e-publications (mobile phone and tablet compatibility, the ability to share publications or content, enhanced navigation, note-taking and highlighting, language support, video-and audio embedding) as either ‘very important’ or ‘important’, with the ability to share deemed the most important feature overall.

The high importance of articles means that researchers are prepared to use many different ways to access them. According to the survey, most articles are discovered by the traditional methods of browsing without a specific objective in mind, with the most popular source for browsing being a web site, followed by library online subscriptions.

Searching (for example for subject or author) was the second most important method of article discovery, with over half of articles being found via general search engines such as Google or Google Scholar. Abstracting and indexing services such as Web of Science accounted for over 20% of articles found by searching.

When asked to rate social media platform in relation to their work, institutional repositories, email, cloud services, and research social networks were assessed by respondents as being the most important. Perhaps surprisingly, the trendier social platforms were deemed to be much less important, with microblogging (Twitter), image sharing (Instagram), and audio sharing (podcasts) appearing at the bottom of the list.

According to the survey, researchers will use whatever means is most convenient and readily available to them to discover and obtain articles, with notable differences across age groups and disciplines. For example, younger age groups are more likely to obtain articles from research-focused social networks, free web journals, and other websites, and are more likely to spend more time reading per article.

Researchers in medical science, social science, and humanities are more likely to use social media for their research, compared to other disciplines. There were also differences in the location where reading took place, with researchers in scientific disciplines being more likely to read articles in their lab or office.

The survey also found differences based on geographic location. Researchers in Central and South America and Africa and the Middle East said that they were less likely to obtain articles via a library subscription, while researchers from Asia and Southeast Asia reported a higher use of open access journals compared to other regions.

Seeking, Reading, and Use of Scholarly Articles: An International Study of Perceptions and Behaviour of Researchers by Carol Tenopir, Lisa Christian and Jordan Kaufman is based on a 2018 study which builds on the Tenopir–King surveys of scholarly reading patterns that date back to 1977.

The survey was conducted during the first part of 2018 and questions included subject discipline, age, and geographic location; recollection questions (the number of article readings in the last month, other article readings, importance of reading); critical incident questions including time spent reading, purpose of reading, and format. It is available here:

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Posted 13 April 2012