Find New Inspiration For Your Half-Finished Paper With This Tool

Photo: Joerg Koch, Getty

Have you ever felt stuck when you have something half written? Maybe it’s a school paper, or a short story, or... an article about life hacks. A tool called JSTOR Analyser can read your draft and suggest new things for you to read, making it a genius way to procrastinate.

According to the folks at JSTOR, their analyser will read your text, figure out what it’s about, and show you the best research articles and book chapters that you probably should have read.

I found its algorithms to be hit-or-miss in accuracy, but hugely helpful in finding new rabbit holes to explore.

First, I pasted in the text of an article I wrote yesterday about probiotics. JSTOR picked out "probiotics" and "vitamins" as keywords, along with "Lactobacillus", which I did not name, but which is a genus of bacteria commonly available in probiotic supplements. So far so good!

But its recommendations weren’t recent research on probiotics. Instead, they were mainly historical papers about bacteria and vitamins, including this one expressing excitement over the newfangled concept of “vitamines”.

So I tried a different document, one that contained some sci-fi stories I’ve been writing in my spare time. They are mostly about self-aware robots and how humans relate to them. JSTOR picked out the keywords "voice mail", "rock music", "blogs", "budgerigars" and "kitchen tables". (I never mentioned budgerigars or any other bird, but I had used the word “tweet” in the Twitter sense.)

Fortunately you can edit the keywords, so I crossed out "budgerigars" and added "robots". Soon I was looking at an ethics paper about what it means to be autonomous and a collection of optional tags that kind of made sense: I could click on Alexa and information technology.

JSTOR includes more than just academic papers, so sometimes you’ll get poetry too. When I pasted in this article about first aid for parties, the keywords were roughly correct: "First aid", "first responders" and "libations" were the first three. But the resulting papers included an Ezra Pound poem called The Psychological Hour and a 1916 musing on the nature of Boston, which the author notes can be experienced either drunk or sober.

So I don’t recommend JSTOR Analyser as the perfect way to find that one reference your paper is missing, but I do recommend it as a source of interesting tangents that can possibly shake up the way you’re thinking about your topic. And that’s often exactly what you need when you’re stuck.


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