I need to start learning about a new research topic, I’ve been collecting articles for about a year now. I collected +400 articles, spanning a range of ~40 years.

I haven’t had the time to read them since I was working on finishing a few papers, I’m finished now so I want to get on it.

The question is: should I start from oldest to newest, or from newest to oldest?

I can see some pros and cons in both approaches:

Oldest to newest:

  • Pro: it feels right, since that is the way the research actually happened.
  • Con: It will take me a lot of time to become acquainted with the latest developments in the field, and I am not able to start working on it until I do.

Newest to oldest:

  • Pro: I will quickly develop some knowledge (not in depth though) into the actual state of the field. This allows me to start working, at least on minor things.
  • Pro: It will alert me of wrong paths taken previously in the field, so when I find them in the older literature I’ll be already aware.
  • Con: It will be considerably more difficult to follow, specially at first, since I’ll be diving into the analysis of the latest developments of an unknown field.
  • Con: I’ll necessarily be jumping back to older literature anyway, risking going down the rabbit hole of research.

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