RSS: Keeping up with research

I am often asked by students how to keep current with new research output and my advice is to set up alerts using some of the new (RSS) and not so new (Email) technologies available to us.  Before I begin explaining how you can set up alerts, I need to provide a few definitions . . .

What are alerts?

Alerts are notifications either via email or as RSS of something of interest to you which has been published in a new issue of a journal or added to a database or website.  The frequency of notification will vary from publisher to publisher or database provider or website owner but setting up alerts will ensure that you are aware of all new materials being published.

Having said this, it is worth noting that not all databases, journals or websites enable alerting – many of the older sites do not have the option to set up alerts.  You can only set up an alert if you see one of these symbols:   RSS or XML or Subscribe .

What is RSS?

RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndicate” and ‘RSS feeds’ enable the aggregation of information in one place, most usually in a ‘Reader’.  There are a number of ‘Readers’ that pick up these feeds.  The most commonly used ones are: Google Reader, RSS Reader on your email client (this maybe disabled in your work environment) and the ‘in-built’ RSS Reader on your browser.

The role of the ‘Reader’ is to check for updates and download them so that you can read the updated news either online or offline.  You may want to watch this video to get a better understanding of RSS feeds and Readers.

Unlike email alerts which literally pop into your Inbox, the ‘Reader’ does not notify you of when new content is available to view.  You have to go to the it and view the new links. This has several advantages:  you don’t have to go to individual websites and check the content as all the new content feeds come into one place, you can use your time more effectively for ‘keeping up-to-date with current research’ in that you are not constantly ‘interrupted’ by email alerts and you do not have to organise your alerts into folders – the Reader does this for you automatically.

You can set up alerts for the following:

Saved Searches alerts from databases and from Google Scholar so that you do not have to go into individual databases and re-run the searches.  Some databases do not allow this option but as alerting functions become  more common, database providers are being forced to make this option more readily available.  Other databases require you to register and login to set up alerts, e.g. the ProQuest Databases BEI, ERIC and AEI will save alerts in the ‘My Research’ folder.

Citation alerts can be set up from citation databases such as the Web of Science and the alerts are used to notify you of when someone cites a specific journal article.

Table of Contents alerts provide notifications of new articles published in a journal and this is particularly useful if the journal is a key journal for your area of research.  The British Library’s Electronic Table of Contents, Zetoc, offers a comprehensive service for setting up email and RSS alerts. Zetoc has over 28,000 journals, 45 million article citations and conference papers and is the largest database of this kind.  Other Table of Contents services include ticTocs and CiteULike but these are not as comprehensive as Zetoc.

Web page alerts can be set up to notify you of when a web page has been updated.  Look out for the RSS icon to gauge whether the website has enabled alerts setting. Web Page alerts – are notifications when a specific web page has been updated.  Look out for the RSS icon to gauge whether a database allows an alerting service.

The IOE LibGuide RSS:  Keeping current with your research provides additional information and instructions.

About Nazlin Bhimani

Research Support and Special Collections Librarian, UCL Institute of Education, London
This entry was posted in Library and Archives, Research Support and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to RSS: Keeping up with research

  1. Holly Smith says:

    Thanks that is really useful; if you already have a google account it is very quick and I found all the journals I wanted to subscribe to had an RSS feed in Zetoc. So, I’ll see if this works better than email alerts…

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