# Paper - How to read a paper

April, 2021

Let’s talk about a *meta* paper today. This paper presents an interesting
perspective on how to read a paper. While this paper is aimed at graduate
students and researchers, we’ll try to adapt the takeaways for practitioners :)

**How to read a paper, ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, July 2007** by
S Keshav. 121 citations.

https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/1273445.1273458

## Motivation

At the outset, we need to answer the question *why am I reading this paper?*
Common answers include being aware of recent developments, review and appraise
as part of service, deeply understand a concept and apply to own research. This
determines the *depth* of our study.

The paper proposes a three pass approach to the study. With each pass, try to
revisit the objective and observe if its met. Second, given the volume of new
research, it is crucial to *eliminate* the content that is not relevant. The
earlier we determine this, the efficient our study becomes.

## Solution

**First pass** is a *10-15min* exercise. Scan through the section headings,
abstract and conclusion. Capture five aspects: category, context, contributions,
correctness and clarity. Category and Context broadly determine the relevance
with *subject* and *problem statement*. Contributions and Correctness help
answer if this paper is important in its field. Clarity is a function of
exposition quality and depth of the authors.

**Second pass** is *1hr* exercise. Study the diagrams and read through the
concepts. Skip the detailed proofs. Goal is to understand the flow of thought,
reasoning and an ability to summarize the paper with evidence to someone else.
Author suggests an *active reading* i.e. noting down references, background and
any comments.

**Third pass** is a *2-3hr* effort. Try to recreate the paper by questioning
the assumptions and statements. Study the premise and conclusions deeply. Two
key outcomes of this pass: a) note down the future ideas, and b) call out any
interesting tools you observe. Both of these add to your repertoire for
research.

### Algorithm to find papers

- Use academic search engines like Google Scholar or Citeseer. I’d like to add Microsoft Academic to the mix for its nice taxonomy.
- Find key researchers in an area by looking at top
*references*. - Find key conferences by looking at the recent publications of these researchers.
- Now look into the conference proceedings and find the top papers.

When I started reading papers, I would commit myself to a *third pass* always.
As a practitioner, this doesn’t payoff well and time constraints decrease the
motivation to keep up the habit. The constraints on each pass e.g. *boundaries
of exploration* and *time limit* are a fantastic tool. This objectivity is
a definite antidote to the perfectionist in me.

My experience on the algorithm to find good papers is a bit different. I stumbled upon good blog posts looking for engineering challenges. Observe which topics and papers they talk about. Rest of the algorithm matches - find the conferences the papers were submitted, look at references and find more key people. There’s another interesting source: look for graduate level courses on the topic. Most of the good universities publish their Paper Reading Lists on the course page. These turn out to be a treasure.