Literature search on IDEAS: a tutorial

March 23, 2017

RePEc is foremost a initiative to enhance the dissemination of economics research. IDEAS is one of several RePEc services that make the RePEc bibliographic database available to anybody. This tutorial demonstrates how IDEAS can be leveraged to perform powerful literature searches.


A good starting point can be to do a search for some keyword. A search on IDEAS can be much more useful that a search on a more general tool as IDEAS is dedicated to economics, thus results should not be “polluted” by results from other fields or that are not research. Say you are interested in some economic aspect of elephants (an example actually requested in a live demonstration). Then search for “elephant” is sufficient to give you all the economic literature on the pachyderms. There is a search form on every IDEAS page in the top right corner, and there is also a dedicated page with advanced options.

At the time of this writing, a search for “elephant” yields 298 results. For the following, we will use as an example one search results that caught our eye: Downward sloping demand for environmental amenities and international compensation: elephant conservation and strategic culling, a working paper.


Another way to find a starting point for your literature search is to browse by topic. For this, we have the JEL Classification from the Journal of Economic Literature. While by far not every item in RePEc has a JEL code, this again can be a useful starting point. This may require quite a bit of exploration for the newcomer, as one may have to navigate several branches until one finds the right topic. Or there may not be a close fit. For example, the economics of elephants does not have its own code in the JEL classification, it is somewhere in code Q.

Often, if you start with a reference paper, the associated JEL code can help you. On IDEAS, you find it in the “related research” tab. There is none for our elephant paper, but here is an example for another paper (as for all images, clicking on it will show your a larger view):

Another way to browse is to look at the publication profiles of the authors of the studies you have found. Often, at least one author is registered with RePEc and has assembled all their works into their profile. There may be other relevant items there.


RePEc tries whenever possible to extract the references in the indexed works and then tries to link those references with the holdings in RePEc. This process is fraught with stumbling blocks, but it worked in our example, as can be seen below. References typically contain the most relevant literature that preceded the work that is considered. These works are likely to be important. And as you browse or follow the references, you will start noticing that the the same works keep appearing. These should most likely be part of your final list.


As we have references, we can also do links the other way: where has this work been cited? This provides you with the literature that follows the work that is considered. And indeed, our example has been cited elsewhere. You can then explore these works, what references they have and what their authors have also written.

Find other versions

Sometimes, you cannot access a particular work because the publisher requires a subscription. However, there may be a previous version available that is in open access. In such cases, IDEAS will tell you with a red message that you can find a link in the “related works section” as in the example below. The links also work the other way: while looking at an open access version, it allows you to find where it was ultimately published. In some cases, it even allows you to find associated data or computer code.

Keeping current

If you want to continue to follow the literature you are interested in, there are several options available to you. See this blog post to learn about them. One of them it to use MyIDEAS, which can also be useful when you are doing your literature search, as is allows you to save items into folders as you work on IDEAS and then export the bibliographic references in various formats.

How to follow new Economics literature with RePEc

October 17, 2016

RePEc is basically a scheme to organize and collect the Economics literature, with all the relevant data made available by the providers and publishers. RePEc services then collect, organize and enhance this data and make it available to the public. In this post, we want to show how the interested reader can stay up-to-date with the latest publications in their field. All these services are offered free of charge and are managed by volunteers.


NEP (New Economics Papers) is likely the most popular service in this respect. As its name indicates, it focuses on papers and not journal articles, on the premise that the frontier of research is with pre-preprints like working and discussion papers. Given the publication delays that are endemic in Economics, this makes sense. NEP is organized in over 90 fields, each with a human editor who determines which of the 500 to 1000 weekly new papers are relevant. The weekly reports are then disseminated through email lists, RSS feeds, and Twitter. On the NEP homepage, click on the report name to find these options.


EconPapers is a comprehensive service that allows to search or browse the entire contents indexed by RePEc. Its advanced search form has the option to select only search results that were added recently, and to rank the results by that date.


IDEAS is also a comprehensive service with the entire contents of RePEc. It has a personal area requiring a free user login, MyIDEAS, which allows the user to follow various objects, meaning that any addition to RePEc that correspond to characteristics set by the user are displayed. The objects can be serials (papers series or journals), authors, JEL codes, or results from the search engine. Results are stored in the accounts, email notification is planned for the future.


Socionet is a service based in Russia that is comprehensive as well and that is available in Russian and English. It features the Socionet Personal Zone which allows a registered user to configure one or more robots that keep track of additions and either puts them into a folder on the website or sends them by email.

A quick MyIDEAS tutorial

August 12, 2016

MyIDEAS has recently been improved, this is a good opportunity to show what it can do and how. This is a personalized service, thus it required credentials, unlike almost everything else in RePEc. We thus thus start with authentication, then look at how to populate one’s MyIDEAS account and then how to use it.

Logging in

Authentication is done through RePEc OpenID, which means that you need to have an account on the RePEc Author Service (but do not need to be an author) and know your RePEc Short-ID. You can find the latter in many ways: in your RePEc Author Service account, on your profile in IDEAS or EconPapers, or by using this look-up tool. See in the images below where the Short-ID pzi1 appears, including the address bar (click on any image to see it larger).




To log in, you will find a prompt for MyIDEAS almost everywhere on IDEAS, just below the top bar.


First, provide your RePEc Short-ID


Then log in with your RePEc Author Service credentials


Your are now ready. You will be logged out after an hour of inactivity.


Populating the MyIDEAS account

Go almost anywhere on IDEAS and you will see a button that allows you to save something to your MyIDEAS account. For example, here is a paper abstract page. You have now the option to save this paper, and you can thereby start building a bibliography. We will see later what this looks like in MyIDEAS.


If you click on the button, you get a confirmation.


You can also follow serials (working paper series, journals, for example), authors and JEL codes. Following means that whenever you go to your MyIDEAS account, you can see what has been added since the last time.



You can also follow keyword searches, a new feature. Do a search on IDEAS and add it to you MyIDEAS account. Note that you can refine your search with all the options offered on the advanced search page and they will be saved.



We have added a few items to the MyIDEAS account, let us see what we can do with them. Click on MyIDEAS and you get to the MyIDEAS “home”.


Let us look at the bibliography. By default all additions are put in folder “unassigned”. You can create additional folders and put the items in there.


Once you go into one of the folders, you can do several things with them, including sharing your folder with others, extracting all references in various formats, moving items to other folders.


Let us now move to the various thing you follow and start with authors. This tracks anything your followed authors have added to their profile since you added them to MyIDEAS or you refreshed the time stamp. Thus, for those you just added, nothing should be visible. For older ones, this should look like this:


Note that you can reset the timestamp so that the next time you visit, you will not see these items again. The same principle applies for series and JEL codes:


For the search keywords, they are no all listed on one single page because that could take a long time to load. You have to elect the keyword from the menu. Otherwise, the functionality of the page is similar.


End note

MyIDEAS is a relatively new service, so we are looking for ways to improve it. Suggestions are welcome. One that is planned is to allow for email notifications. And finally, there are other ways to keep abreast of what is new in RePEc, including the NEP reports.


February 11, 2016

The CitEc project has launched an Application Programming Interface (API) to enable external applications to query the CitEc database and obtain citation data through a simple web interface. It allows to retrieve three different types of data for each document: plain, AMF (Academic Metadata Format) and citedby.

  1. Plain XML data about cites of a single document. This data should be processed by the API client before be presented to the user.
  2. AMF metadata for cites and references (if available) for the document. The XML response is an AMF record. More details about the AMF schema is available at:
  3. Citedby shows the cites for the document. By default, the XML output is transformed through an XSLT style sheet to generate an human readable page.

The CitEc API is addressed mainly to:

  • Institutions providing data to RePEc (RePEc archives). The API could be used to insert in their web pages the number of citations of each document.
  • Researchers who want to use CitEc data in their bibliometric research. It provides an easy way to get basic data about documents and citations. Note that such researchers also could ask us to provide the data in the customized format they need in order to reduce even more the processing time.

Look at for more information and examples.

Note that beyond CitEc, IDEAS provides also an API for other parts of the RePEc database.


Twitter, Economics, and RePEc

January 29, 2016

Economists have been slow to embrace social media for professional use. We are used to write long papers, go a through extremely lengthly review process, and hesitate to take categorical positions (“it depends”). The quick and fleeting nature of social media does not seem to be a natural environment for economists. Yet, blogs have been active for many years with contributions that have helped discuss, explain and form policy. Some have provided platforms for research that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. And some have highlighted research that had flaws.

Social media is huge, and it can be a challenge for somebody who is interested in the economic discourse to find what is worthwhile to follow. Also, it is not obvious to find what social media had to say about a particular topic, especially if one wants to limit oneself to what “true” economists have to say. There is unfortunately a lot of noise in the economic debate, as almost everyone has a opinion that is not often backed by research.

RePEc has already tried to capture what is happening in the economic blogosphere. EconAcademics is a website that aggregates the discussion of economic research while monitoring about 1000 blogs. The idea here is to find those blog posts that link to research indexed on RePEc, on the presumption that they discuss research or use research to make a point. This is in contrast to a lot of the discussion of economics that very quickly veers into politics with little backing from actual research. EconAcademics thus makes those blogs better known that are more “seriously” into economics. The site can also be used to find interesting material for the classroom or simply to broaden once interests. We hoped also that this would encourage more discussions in the comment sections of those blogs. Anecdotally, this does not seem to have happened. Economists seem too busy to engage in any significant way in such discussions, with few exceptions. This is especially true when it comes to commenting papers. Blogs have not become a medium where a discussion can drag on for days (although it could have), as a careful reading of the papers would require.

What about Twitter? It would seem that the instantaneous nature of Twitter, as well as the 140 character limit of a tweet, would make it even more difficult to have serious and thoughtful discussions about research. It appears that economists recently have been warming up to the idea, and many prominent ones have joined Twitter and contribute thoughts on policy and current research. The difference with blogs is that Twitter somehow engages more discussion, and it also prompts interactions between people who would never have interacted otherwise: it makes everyone accessible. That said, one can also simply be lurking without intervening and learn from the discussion or the alerts. As we find from analyzing traffic to RePEc, Twitter can drive substantial readership to some papers. Another example is the previous post on this blog, that got substantial readership, almost all through Twitter.

How can RePEc help here? There are two ways. The first is that every new working paper that is announced through the NEP mailing lists is now also disseminated through Twitter (see for a list of all the available feeds one can follow). This has been in place for close to a year and has so far gathered a following of about 3000 users with a steady flow of further dissemination through retweets.

The second is that it is now possible for authors to add their Twitter account to their IDEAS author profile, thereby making their Twitter time line easier to find. All they need to do is to tweet their RePEc Short-ID to @RePEc_signup. This allows also to compile a list of economists present on Twitter, which we hope will grow quickly.

Economic policy is very much in the public sphere. Economists should embrace social media to steer discussions in the right direction, that is, in a way that is backed up by serious research. Blogs and now Twitter can be good tools for this.

Mentioning economic research on the Internet? Deep-link to RePEc!

November 24, 2015

Whether you are building a web page, writing a blog post, posting on Facebook or tweeting, as an economist engaged in discussing research on the field, you have to cite relevant sources. To do so, one is tempted to link directly to where said research is to be found: on a personal homepage, on a publisher’s website, or to the pdf file in a working paper series. I want to argue that this is not the best tactic. It is better to link to the abstract page for these research pieces on IDEAS or EconPapers. Why?

  1. RePEc links are stable. Homepages disappear, publishers and institutions reorganize their websites, but RePEc services have committed to never change their URLs, as they are formed from persistent identifiers. And on the rare occasion that those change, IDEAS and EconPapers offer suggestions on the 404 page where to find the paper.
  2. RePEc shows other versions. The reader may not be able to read the particular version of the paper that is linked to a gated website. RePEc services often offer alternative versions of the article such as a freely available working paper.
  3. RePEc provides related literature. The abstract page offers links to referred and cited works, to author profiles, and other related material.
  4. RePEc rewards linked authors. Getting cited on the Internet, even if it is with a popular blogger or a major newspaper, does not offer any quantifiable rewards to the authors. With a RePEc link, though, hits and downloads will counts towards authors rankings. Authors will be grateful for that.

NB: Linking to the URLs disseminated by NEP is fine, too, although only the last point is valid in that case.
PS: For blogs, the posts linking to RePEc abstract pages will be featured on EconAcademics.

New linkages with RePEc

October 23, 2014

In my previous post, I have alluded to the fact that the value of RePEc comes from linkages between identified elements. In the next post, I will set out a working example of linkage usage in the CollEc project. In this post, I’m discussing a direction for future work. It’s about creating new linkage type. Much of this is already implemented at SocioNet. SocioNet is a RePEc service that originated in Russia in the 1990s. They hold RePEc data and combine it with local data.

Recently, login data from the RePEc Author Service has become available to other RePEc service via a protocol known as openID. Soon RAS-registered users will be able to login to SocioNet without having to create a SocioNet account, just simply by using their RAS account. SocioNet then knows that you are an identified author. When you are logged into SocioNet in this way, SocioNet knows that you have written a bunch of papers, that I will now call “your papers”. Based on the knowledge of your authorship, it can assume that you know your work and the surrounding literature. It can give you get a personalized web interface based on RAS data. In that interface you will be able to conveniently supply further details about your work.

First, SocioNet can enquire about the role of your collaborators in a given research paper. In conventional abstracting and indexing data, all contributors to a paper are placed into a list of authors. But usually, the co-authors each have different roles in the papers writing process. You can indicate the roles using a simple controlled vocabulary.

Second, using SocioNet you will be able to provide linkages between papers. One of the linked papers has to be yours. The other paper may be yours, but it may not be.

Let’s look at cases where you wrote both papers that you want to link. One thing you may want to tell users is how papers relate to each other. So you can say that one paper is an abridged version of the other, that a third paper is a development of the fourth. Eventually, such relationships could be picked up by RePEc services to create commented links between your papers. This is particularly useful if you have a version of a paper you don’t like any more. You can point users to a better version of the paper.

When you only wrote one of the papers, the other paper has to be on the reference list of one of your papers. In that case you can bring in a vocabulary containing terms like “develops model from”, or “uses software from” or “uses data from”. There are two aspects to these document to document relations.

One is that guessing the context of a citation is really difficult using the automated ways in which the citation is actually being produced. If users can take a small amount of time to classify citations according to a simple menu than we would be able to get more valuable information about the structure of ideas across papers.

The other is that building relationship with sources of data and software would advertise the data and software and promote the sharing of these resources. RePEc already works with software.  It would be great if it could work with datasets, i.e. as and when reusable datasets would be considered as publications in their own right, then users could point to a dataset used in the publication right in the metadata. It could then be possible to create a list of all the publications using a certain dataset. That would be a great way to unify papers on a certain topic and of course, to promote the dataset maintenance as an additional academic endeavour.