The academic year in the UK is well under way, and doubtless students are starting to get a sense of the amount of reading they will need to complete in order to write their papers.

For those who have a reading list as long as both arms, you might be pleased to know about the official launch of MiniManuscript, a service where academic papers are summarised so that you can read what is necessary and skip the papers that would be a waste of time for your subject.

The MiniManuscript search engine looks through a database containing 23 million publications going back to 1966 and a selection dating all the way back to 1809.

The site is the brain child of Dr. Anna Remington, the Scott Junior Research Fellow in Autism and Related Disorders at University College, Oxford, and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London and Jake Fairnie, a neuroscience PhD student based at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London.

The problem the set out to solve a year and a half ago stemmed from their own method of sharing a document summarising papers they would both find relevant while working together.

MiniManuscript Director Picture 730x511 MiniManuscript is launching to take the pain out of academic reading lists

“Because it was something we created in our own lab for ourselves, we knew it would work,” says Remington. “We created a shared online document where we would post summarised documents about things that would be relevant to both of us. That way we could cover things in half the time.”

Rather than keeping this to themselves the pair went on to find out if others might benefit from a similar idea. “When it started working for us, we thought everyone should be able to do this. We asked people if they would be interested and did research asking people from professors to undergrads and everyone said it was something they needed.”

The pair went on to win £7.5k through the UCL Bright Ideas award and then another £1000 from Shell Live Wire’s Grand Ideas award. Remington says that this is enough to keep things going for the first year.

Summarise not plagiarise

“We’re a bit like Wikipedia, but for academic literature,” explains Fairnie, “like watching the trailers before deciding what film to see – it doesn’t replace the full feature but it means you only go to see the ones you really want to watch.” The summarised papers are linked to from each summary so that academics can decide what they want to spend time reading, or in some cases pay to read.

Alongside the MiniManuscript summaries, there are also discussion threads and other multimedia content related to each article. This way the papers come to life through debate and related material, without clouding the facts of the actual summary.

minimanuscripts screen example search 730x584 MiniManuscript is launching to take the pain out of academic reading lists

Naturally in a space that is full of material containing new discoveries and original content, the site works to avoid plagiarism. “We do say don’t copy and paste,” says Remington. “Just put the facts. There’s also no opinion in the summaries, because it’s just the method and results that we ask people to put down there, there shouldn’t be too much room for interpretation.”

From here Remington and Fairnie hope to raise funds through a combination of approaches. For those who would like to store papers on the site’s servers, there will be a subscription fee. Remington also says that she hopes the site will be useful to other universities which may in turn sponsor the site so that it can be used by many more academics.

Though the site is only officially launching on November 27, there are already plans for more features that will be helpful to students and academics. Soon a reading list and bibliography function will appear so that papers added to a favourites section can be exported as a references list. Anyone who has forgotten to put their references together for a paper will doubtless be relieved to hear this.

There have been some great strides in technology for academia lately. No longer is study only about browsing shelves of dusty books and being locked away in a garret to read them all. The paper sharing and collaboration service Mendeley recently celebrated 2 million users, RG Score has unleashed a social network for boffins to share their work and more about their own research and Academic.edu has also upped the stakes with a fresh design and more room for academics to push their profiles.

Although Fairnie and Remington are studying in quite different areas to website creation and entrepreneurship, it’s useful ideas like this that can be turned into a viable business idea. Let’s hope that they still have time further the fields of cognitive neuroscience and autism research while helping out other academics as they continue to shape MiniManuscripts.

Image Credit: KatJung / Flickr