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BIOL 1010: Cells, Molecules, and Life: Reading Scientific Articles

Tips for Reading a Scientific Article

The following tips were derived from the additional resources on reading a scientific articles below.

  • Skim the article first to get the main points. Don’t read it like a textbook.
  • First read the title and abstract to get an overview of the research and determine if the article is relevant and understandable and of sufficient importance.
  • Read the introduction to gain a deeper understanding of the context of the research. Do you understand the background information? How does this study fit into the rest of the field? What is known about the topic? What is still unknown?
  • Skim the results, including the tables and figures. Do you understand the key variables and can you identify some general trends (e.g., shape of a curve)?
  • Move on to the discussion section of the paper. Focus on the first and last paragraphs. What are the major findings? Are these results relevant for you? How do they relate to the field as a whole? Do you agree with the logic of the conclusions? What further or follow-up studies do the researchers recommend?
  • Finally, read the methods. What is the methodology? Is it sufficiently described that one could replicate the study? What is the sample size? What factors might have affected the outcome of the study?
  • Go back and reread the results and discussion in more detail.  
  • While reading each section, take notes. Write down any questions you have or parts you don't understand and then turn to textbooks or encyclopedias to help make this clearer.
  • Jot down terms you aren't familiar with and look them up in a scientific dictionary.