Exercise: Reading, Searching, and Skimming

We will be browsing a lot of academic literature, so we all need to be up to speed on the basic tools: literature databases, reference management, and citation formats.

We also need practice with top-down research reading: understanding the typical structure of an academic paper, picking out major ideas without getting stuck, following citations, and locating the work within a subfield.


  1. Become familiar with the tools of academic literature research.

  2. Practice quick reading to identify the context and purpose of a paper.

  3. Become familiar with the range of topics considered to be soft robotics.


  1. Read Guide to Library Resources.

  2. Install the Carnegie Mellon University VPN software if you don’t already have it.

  3. Install some Reference Management Software if you don’t already use any. I personally use and recommend Zotero.

  4. Read the Rus and Tolley 2015 survey paper [R62] in detail.

    1. Please allow at least two hours.

    2. Please jot down unfamiliar words or phrases for us to review as a group.

    3. Try not to get stuck on completely unfamiliar terminology; keep reading and see if you can infer meaning from context.

    4. Try not to get stuck on a baffling section; please note it for questions and move on.

    5. Be sure to read through all the titles of the cited papers in the reference section.

  5. Create an account on the course site. Your account username will be your Andrew email address and your password will be your Andrew password.

  6. Pick three new papers to skim quickly.

    1. Please choose one from the survey paper references, one from the S22 course robotics bibliography, and one from browsing IEEE Xplore for anything related to soft robotics.

    2. Read each through quickly (5-10 min). Read the abstract, skim the figures, skim the references, skim the related work, read the main points.

    3. Can you articulate both the general area of work within soft robotics and the main takeaway lesson?

  7. Write a short site post with a sentence-length synopsis of each new paper, each followed by the citation in the same style as the course bibliograpy. This is typically: authors, title, journal or booktitle, volume, pages, year, DOI. Please be sure to include the DOI if possible, it is usually the fastest way to locate the source.


  1. Short blog post.