paper hunting

I was curious about an email that went around last week, asking for someone to collect papers for a professor, print them and get them bound. I got the job through my inquiry, and found it that it was a set of 20 papers from the 1970s to present that needed to be located online in PDF format, downloaded and then printed, to make a collection of the professor's significant papers for a fellowship application. It's a treasure hunt! For papers.

I thought I'd write some tips about paper-hunting, because I get the impression it is something that people generally think is very difficult. It can be, depending on the age of the paper and which journal it was submitted to, but you can get around these obstacles. I found all the papers in an hour1, made straightforward since my university had online access to all the necessary journals. I'm also including general printing tips that I found useful.

My tips:

  • the quickest way to find a paper is to Google-search the title of the paper; in most cases, the paper you're looking for will come up as the first result.
  • if Google fails2, you're going to have to go to the source by trying to find the website of the journal the paper was published in and hoping you have access to it; often with obscure journals, you probably won't.
  • if you're lucky enough to be searching for an astronomical-related paper, check ADS because they stockpile papers very comprehensively.
  • alternatively you can try arXiv, although it's rare that a paper on arXiv is the final (professional) version you might be looking for; they mostly tend to be close-to-final drafts.
  • check your library records, because in some cases the article may not be online but will be in a musty old bound volume in storage somewhere, which is not impossible to get; my university has a scan service in these cases.
  • if all else fails, reconsider how important that paper is to your research; if you've spent more than a few hours trying to get it with no luck, ask yourself the question: is it a rare jewel or a chunk of pyrite?
  • make sure you are at university or on a connection that automatically recognises your access to the journals; this makes downloading the papers so much easier.
  • if the paper includes a database "title page" that you want to remove, the best way is to print the PDF to a new PDF, selecting only from page 2.
  • you can hide URLs that state when the paper was downloaded by using a PDF-editing program (I use Skim for Macs) to place a white rectangle over the text and then exporting this as a new PDF; any editing more complicated than this simple white-space correction I'm not sure about.
  • make use of the handy terminal commands when printing files; in particular, "lpr *.pdf" will print all PDFs in a given folder.
  • to print double-sided in the Linux terminal, use this command: "lpr -o sides=two-sided-long-edge"
  • if you need binding, I recommend using a professional binding service such as offered by Officeworks, although you're generally better off printing yourself if you have access to a decent laser printer; this will save you time and potential binding machine stress, and doesn't cost that much.
  • keep your pages to be bound under 125 pages if possible as this is the maximum3 for a selection of binding options (unless you want to go for multi-volume sets); otherwise you're stuck with the plastic binding you usually see on university readings.
  • this is a minor detail regarding fonts in general, but remember that the default LaTeX font (Computer Modern) always looks more professional than Times. Or Papyrus. Or Comic Sans! :O
  • remember to check and double-check your printed material for completeness, consistency and errors; once it's bound4, you're almost certainly committed!

So that's about it. Hopefully some things I've listed are helpful to you! If you have any other tips about papers or printing, let me know in the forum or by email. I'll also (at some point) post more tips for LaTeX, Linux, Matlab, Python, etc that I picked up during the course of Honours. So far I've been too busy/lazy… :p

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