Finding papers that use---but never identify---a specific software platform

When you are learning a new research code, it’s really helpful to find out exactly what problems other researchers have solved using it. While these other papers may have focused on slightly different applications, I will typically want to study them to collect all of the tips I can about the sensitivity of certain parameters, numerical stabilization techniques, and any other non-canonical info that would be really helpful. The problem?

Several journals in my field are a bit weird about including the names of commercial software products in papers, presumably to avoid conflicts of interest or a marketing tone. Then there are researchers who (I think) omit the software’s name so it sounds like the implemented the algorithm themselves. Either way, if you are trying to find previous studies on topic XYZ that specifically used Abaqus FEA, this can get a little complex in these cases since the word “Abaqus” never shows up in the paper or abstract.

There are a few ways to find these papers in the haystack. Let’s use Abaqus as our example.

  • Use Google to find a research group using Abaqus—they can’t say it in the paper, but it may be listed on their website. Search Web of Science for papers published by the principal researchers in that group. Bonus tip: contact these people and ask who else is using it—they definitely know.

  • Search for papers that cite the key theoretical papers about the material models or specific algorithms implemented in that software. For research using the Abaqus concrete damage plasticity model, you are searching for papers that cite either Lubliner et al. (1989) or Lee and Fenves (1998).

  • I’ve found that most technical software platforms have their own lingo and, oftentimes, scientists will describe models in papers using the precise language from the software documentation. Figure out your tool’s buzz phrases and search databases using those keywords. If I read the words “concrete damaged plasticity model” or “plastic damage model,” it’s definitely Abaqus. If I read “multidirectional non-orthogonal smeared crack model”: DIANA. If I read “disturbed stress field model”: VecTor. If I hear “microplane model”: MASA or ATENA. If I hear “Willam-Warnke failure surface” or “Solid65 element”: it’s ANSYS.

  • Ask the software vendor if they maintain a library of academic papers which utilize their software. This may exist even if it is not available on a public-facing webpage, usually password-protected to avoid copyright issues. Ask and you may receive.

I have used and had success with all of the techniques above. Each of these will yield a different set of articles, the union of which should approach the full body of prior work on your topic using that specific tool.

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