Qian et al - Beyond iTunes for Papers - Redefining the Unit of Interaction in Literature Review Tools

Zotero and similar software orients literature review and knowledge synthesis around the {paper} as the fundamental unit, but {Grounded claims, after Qian et al} may be a more suitable atom for cognitive supports.

Syntopic reading requires that the reader juggle and synthesize claims across many papers; because the software makes papers the primary unit, it misses the opportunity to support making connections between claims within the papers. It’s costly to manipulate grounded claims when papers are the primary unit, because readers must {predict in advance which claims will be useful} and deliberately extract them (along with relevant context) to some other shared space (e.g. a text editor).

The authors prototyped a software system, Knowledge Compressor (video), which centers on grounded claims instead of on papers. It augments the PDF reading experience with a tool which allows the reader to summarize an excerpt with a short claim, then to connect those claims (now acting like handles) to related claims from other papers.

Q. Generate a grounded claim (as described by Qian et al). Create one you haven't used before.
A. (eg: Human channel capacity increases roughly linearly as chunk size increases, per Miller 1956's survey of various examples across modalities and scales)

Q. What types of connections can be made in Knowledge Compressor?
A. Claim/paper (many:many), claim/claim (many:many)


Qian, X., Erhart, M. J., Kittur, A., Lutters, W. G., & Chan, J. (2019). Beyond iTunes for Papers: Redefining the Unit of Interaction in Literature Review Tools. Conference Companion Publication of the 2019 on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 341–346. https://doi.org/10.1145/3311957.3359455

Syntopic reading

This style of reading emphasizes broad reading across a literature, focused on synthesis rather than analysis. Rather than merely trying to “come to terms” with the author—that is, to deeply understand their conceptual framework—the reader tries to “bring the author to terms”—that is, to recontextualize the author’s work relative to the reader’s own theories and developing ideas.

One common context for this style of reading is in academic literature review.


Adler, M., & van Doren, C. (1972). How to Read a Book. Simon & Schuster, Inc.