Have you wished you could read a scientific article like reading a newspaper article? More often, it seems like a huge battle to tackle a paper and completely understand its content.
To read a paper, you always start with the title and the abstract before going farther into it. However, sometimes you even struggle to breeze through the abstract.
In the abstract, you usually come across multi-syllable words, such as furthermore, underlying, paramount, and compendia, distracting you from the paper. You also find scientific jargon, such as exogenous, homeostatis, epigenetics, or occlusions, forcing you to think twice about its meaning.
Unfortunately, it gets even harder after the abstract. For the remaining parts, you get bombarded with technical details, methods, tons of data points and analyses until the paper successfully overwhelms you. At this point, you become frustrated.
Although it’s challenging, reading scientific papers is essential for scientists and students in science programs. Scientific discoveries quickly progress, and research questions expand, so a skill to efficiently process new scientific papers from trustworthy journals becomes very valuable (Hubbard et al., 2017).
Why is it Important to Read Scientific Papers?
Reading scientific papers from reliable journals is important for scientists, because the papers provide:
- Current discoveries
- Replicable research experiments
- Reliable sources of information
- Evidences of findings in the form of actual data
- Logical interpretations about the findings
All meaningful information above is included in many parts of a scientific paper.
What are the Parts of a Scientific Paper?
Title and Abstract
A title of a paper has important keywords, whereas an abstract has brief information about the study, experiments and the findings.
The introduction explains the background, the significance, and the objective of the research.
Materials and Methods
This part contains the materials used in the experiments. It also provides the steps, details and information about how the authors perform the experiments and analyze the data.
Results and Discussion
The results section contains the raw data and the data analysis, supporting the findings. The discussion part has the outcome of the work, explanations about the results, and the logical interpretations about the findings.
This part contains a list of references used by the authors to support their research background, significance, methods, and interpretations. Sometimes, you can use this part to find to a specific reference to get more information.
After understanding what’s in each part of the paper, you may dissect the paper with the steps below.
Helpful Steps to Read a Scientific Paper
1.Skim through the Title and Abstract
Before you start, read the title and abstract. Write down the keywords and make sure you understand the meaning.
Sometimes, you can get a clue about what the paper is all about from the title and abstract part. However, if reading the abstract still can’t shed any light for you, move on to the introduction part.
2.Extract the Information from the Introduction
If you are completely unfamiliar with the scope of the research, exploring the introduction part of the paper is actually a good place to fill in the gap.One way to read this part is by taking out important information and summarizing the background, the objective, and the significance of the research by using your own words.
If needed, make a list of unfamiliar terms and methods, so you can perform more literature research about them.
3.Analyze the Materials and Methods
Visualize the order of the experiments by drawing a diagram or the flowchart for each method. Supplement the details about how the authors perform their experiments.
Another thing to keep in mind, when reading the materials and methods is why you’re reading this section. For instance, are you reading it to understand how to run your own research project, or are you reading it to determine which technique might be the best approach for your project?
When reading the materials and methods for applications such as the ones mentioned, consider asking and being able to answer the following questions:
4.Dissect the Results and Discussion Part
Write down important information from the results part, including number of samples, treatments, and statistical analyses. Take notes about what the authors found for each figure and table. For the discussion part, summarize the discussion part of the paper by using bullet points.
5.Summarize the Paper
The last step is to summarize the content of the paper by using your own words. This step helps you to understand the research concepts.
To learn more about a strategy to read difficult papers, find GoldBio article below:
How to Read and Understand Hard Scientific Papers
Ball, P. (2017). It’s not just you: science papers are getting harder to read. Nature. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2017.21751.
How to (seriously) read a scientific paper. (2017, December 8). Science | AAAS. https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/03/how-seriously-read-scientific-paper.
Hubbard, K. E., & Dunbar, S. D. (2017). Perceptions of scientific research literature and strategies for reading papers depend on academic career stage. PLOS ONE, 12(12), e0189753. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189753.
Fosmire, M. (n.d.). How to Read a Scientific Paper [PDF]. West Lafayette: Purdue University Libraries. Designed an illustrated by Aly Edmondson. Accessed (Nov. 19, 2020) from: https://www.lib.purdue.edu/sites/default/files/libraries/engr/Tutorials/Newest%20Scientific%20Paper.pdf.
Ruben, A., Jan. 20, 2016, & Pm, 3:15. (2016, January 20). How to read a scientific paper. Science | AAAS. https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/01/how-read-scientific-paper.
Scientific Papers | Learn Science at Scitable. (n.d.). Www.Nature.com. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/scientific-papers-13815490/#:~:text=Papers%20that%20report%20experimental%20work.