The State of the Art (SoTA) is a step to demonstrate the novelty of your research results. The importance of being the first to demonstrate research results is a cornerstone of the research business. You cannot get a Nobel prize (ever again) by learning einstein’s law of the photoelectric effect by heart and presenting it as your own. Einstein did it before you, and everyone knows it because he published it. When Einstein published his theory the theory was new. Einstein was able to prove the novelty of his theory by presenting a SoTA and showing that no other researcher had ever presented such results.

What is the State of the Art?

A state of the art is the identification of prior knowledge to avoid reinventing. Performing a state of the art allows to verify or justify that a new knowledge is produced, for a doctoral thesis or the filing of a patent, for example. The state of the art usually also includes the identification of the actors – academic or industrial – that are at the origin of knowledge: the “ecosystem”.

Better, this ecosystem can be questioned to complete and reinforce the state of the art. This is where open innovation comes in. Especially since the data mining and classification algorithms of the Open Innovation platforms allow to accelerate the research tasks of publications and actors that are often tedious. Let’s dig into an example of state-of-the-art.

Important Properties of SoTA

In addition to demonstrating the novelty of your research results, a SoTA, according to Páramo (2013), has other important properties:

It teaches you a lot about your research problem. By reading the literature related to your research problem, you will learn from other researchers and find it easier to understand and analyze your problem.

Show that your research problem is relevant. If many people are trying to solve the same research problem as you, and if you can prove it in your SoTA, then no one will be able to tell you that the problem you are trying to solve is not important.

It shows different approaches to a solution. By seeing the different approaches adopted by other researchers, you can easily evaluate your own approach and realize its novelty (or lack thereof). You can also see which approaches are the most popular and which are dead ends.

It shows what you can reuse from what others have done. Especially when you do research on a new software, it’s amazing how many people have made exactly the software you’re planning to make. Just do a search on sourceforge and github.

How to write a good SoTA?

Writing a good SoTA depends 110% on having a clear definition of the problem. Létourneau and Amaya (2007), explain that if you have not defined your problem clearly, you will not be able to write a good SoTA. The reason is that you won’t know what related research you need to investigate. Therefore, if you have problems with your working document, rework on defining your problem. Here are some steps/tips to get started writing:

The SoTA is not a one-way road. You won’t sit down one afternoon to write your SoTA. You’ll do it all the time while you’re writing your document/report. Knowing what other researchers are doing should be part of your life throughout the research. So an important step is to create a system of recording and summarizing what you read. Use some bibliography software like Mendeley, BibTeX or EndNode or Zotero, record everything you read and record your understanding of what you read, in your own words.

Be critical when choosing your bibliography. Don’t read everything. There’s a lot of junk on the net, and you won’t want to waste your time on it. An important criterion in choosing the bibliography is to ensure that it is peer-reviewed and has already been presented/published in renowned conferences/journals. When it comes to IT-related technical material, ACM and IEEE are good places to start (search Engineering Village). It’s also a good idea to establish an initial list of SoTA literature together with your thesis supervisor.

SoTA Examples

Here’s an example of state of the art using Open Innovation. We can ask ourselves the following questions: How to get a state of the art How to perform a state of the art? and How can Open Innovation help? Some simple answers below.

For this state-of-the-art example, let’s take a real case dealt with by an industrial company: the problem of fallen leaves on train tracks in the fall. Dead leaves cause a loss of adhesion between the rails and wheels of trains, in particular due to the transformation of the leaves as trains pass. The transformed material causes a loss of adhesion between the wheel and the rail that forces the braking distances to be lengthened and, therefore, disturbs the rhythm of the trains.

In this case study, discover how Alstom™ was able to apply open innovation in the rail sector to solve a century-old problem using the ideXlab platform.

In fact, the dead leaves cause a loss of adhesion between the rails and the wheels of the trains, mainly due to the transformation of the leaves as the trains pass. The transformed material causes a loss of adhesion between the wheel and the rail that lengthens the braking distances. This phenomenon, which alters the timetable of trains, causes delays and other inconvenience to passengers and economic losses to operators.

Get started with scientific publications

The prior art will consist of multiple queries using a search engine. We recommend starting with an investigation of scientific publications (which are usually richer and more explicit than patent sources). In our example, this scan begins with a combination of keywords such as “wheel,” “rail,” “leaves,” “adhesion,” which will return posts on these topics. Interesting publications are saved.

Identify keywords and draw a mind map

The first results of these consultations will also allow to identify other useful keywords to deepen the topic: “friction”, “adhesion enhancer”, “adhesion coefficient”, and will gradually raise research topics that we will have to structure (we recommend using a mental map): ways to restore adhesion, study of the “black layer” that is formed when the wheels crush the fallen leaves , cleaning techniques of the layers of leaves (by laser heating, by projection of substances, by air jet, etc.). ) As consultations progress, knowledge is deepened, structured, new publications are saved and added in the right place on the mind map.

Finding interesting patents

In a second step, the most interesting queries are exploited with patent data sources. Also, in addition to identifying interesting patents in the field, they help to better understand the ecosystem. In our case, a very rich university (and, to a lesser extent, industrial) ecosystem has appeared in Europe (Great Britain, Germany, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Italy, …), in Asia (China, South Korea, Japan) and in North America (United States, Canada).

Contact with experts: a specific approach

Finally, to complete the state of the art, the industrial company decided to contact a number of university groups. It has the advantage of offering the possibility of talking to specialists in the field who can update the state of the art with the most recent and even unpublished data from the research. Even through a conversation of less than an hour, it is possible to identify important points or project into the future, which a purely bibliographic search allows only in a very limited way. It’s like going to an annual conference and interviewing the world’s most famous experts!

Contacting experts: asking the right questions

One final point. In any case, before contacting an expert to perfect a state of the art, you have to ask yourself “why would I spend time on my subject?”. In our case on dead leaves, a large company was at the origin of the question and many experts are interested in a dialogue that can lead to collaboration. But there are other possible options: a simple exchange of information, the possibility of launching a joint project, remuneration, etc.

General recommendations

Masías (2008), presents below the following general recommendations.

Stop reading. Make an initial selection of bibliography (10-20 articles, depending on the research problem) and limit yourself to it for a while. Don’t keep looking for new articles all the time, or you’ll never finish your thesis.

Spend time analyzing and not summarizing. A mere summary of 10-20 articles is not a SoTA. There are computer programs that can summarize any article for you, automatically and much faster than you can. Your summaries become a SoTA only when you relate the SoTA documents to your own analysis of the problem.

You always have to give credit! Not giving credence to the research of others is also called plagiarism.

For the most advanced writers: It is always a good practice to document your methodology for making the study of the state of the art. This means that you must document how you searched for literature, which literature you included and which you excluded, how you did your analysis, etc.

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You may also be interested in: Justification of the Investigation

Bibliographic References

Masías Núñez, R. (2008). Grave words, rebellious words: lexicon of social science research. Bogotá: Universidad de Los Andes, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Departamento de Ciencia Política, CESO, Ediciones Uniandes.

Létourneau, J., & Amaya, J. A. (2007). The toolbox of the young researcher: a guide to intellectual work. Medellín: La Carreta Editores.

Páramo Bernal, P. F. (2013). Research in social sciences: epistemological discussions. Bogotá: Universidad Piloto de Colombia.

State of the Art (SoTA)

State of the Art (SoTA). Photo: Unsplash. Credits: Stephanie Hau @stephiime

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