Reading research papers tips

How does this article fit into the main questions or topics of the course? What will the instructor ask you to do with the knowledge you gain from the article? These are sections where you are likely to find info about purpose and main point:. This perspective can help you read and process the article more easily. Use your knowledge about the main point of the article and context clues from your class as you decide which parts of the article deserve most of your energy, and where you can skim.

Hours and Locations. Abstracts are densely written — do not despair if you must re-read them. It is worth researching the terms in the abstract if you do not understand them. Conclusion: Pay close attention here, even if you assume the conclusion might be repetitive. Only when I have done that will I go back into the technical details to clarify any questions I might have.

I first get a general idea by reading the abstract and conclusions. The conclusions help me understand if the goal summarized in the abstract has been reached, and if the described work can be of interest for my own study. Then I usually read the entire article from beginning to end, going through the sections in the order they appear so that I can follow the flow of work that the authors want to communicate.

If you want to make it a productive exercise, you need to have a clear idea of which kind of information you need to get in the first place, and then focus on that aspect. It could be to compare your results with the ones presented by the authors, put your own analysis into context, or extend it using the newly published data. Citation lists can help you decide why the paper may be most relevant to you by giving you a first impression of how colleagues that do similar research as you do may have used the paper. I think the figures are the most important part of the paper, because the abstract and body of the paper can be manipulated and shaped to tell a compelling story.

If I want to delve deeper into the paper, I typically read it in its entirety and then also read a few of the previous papers from that group or other articles on the same topic. If there is a reference after a statement that I find particularly interesting or controversial, I also look it up. Should I need more detail, I access any provided data repositories or supplemental information.

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Then, if the authors' research is similar to my own, I see if their relevant data match our findings or if there are any inconsistencies. If there are, I think about what could be causing them. Additionally, I think about what would happen in our model if we used the same methods as they did and what we could learn from that. Sometimes, it is also important to pay attention to why the authors decided to conduct an experiment in a certain way. Did the authors use an obscure test instead of a routine assay, and why would they do this? I always start with title and abstract.

I then read the introduction so that I can understand the question being framed, and jump right to the figures and tables so I can get a feel for the data.


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I then read the discussion to get an idea of how the paper fits into the general body of knowledge. I pay attention to acknowledgement of limitations and proper inference of data.


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Some people stretch their claims more than others, and that can be a red flag for me. I also put on my epidemiologist hat so that I can try to make sure the study design is adequate to actually test the hypotheses being examined. As I go deeper into the argument framing, figures, and discussion, I also think about which pieces are exciting and new, which ones are biologically or logically relevant, and which ones are most supported by the literature.

I also consider which pieces fit with my pre-existing hypotheses and research questions. My reading strategy depends on the paper. Sometimes I start by skimming through to see how much might be relevant.

But I always try to figure out if there are particular places or figures that I need to pay close attention to, and then I go and read the related information in the results and discussion. I also check if there are references that I may be interested in. Sometimes I am curious to see who in the field has—or more likely has not—been referenced, to see whether the authors are choosing to ignore certain aspects of the research. I often find that the supplementary figures actually offer the most curious and interesting results, especially if the results relate to parts of the field that the authors did not reference or if they are unclear or unhelpful to their interpretation of the overall story.

When reading papers, it helps me to have a writing task so that I am being an active reader instead of letting my eyes glaze over mountains of text only to forget everything I just read. So for example, when I read for background information, I will save informative sentences from each article about a specific topic in a Word document.

I'll write comments along the way about new ideas I got or questions I need to explore further. Likewise, when I want to figure out how to conduct a particular experiment, I create a handy table in Excel summarizing how a variety of research teams went about doing a particular experiment. I usually start with the abstract, which gives me a brief snapshot of what the study is all about. Then I read the entire article, leaving the methods to the end unless I can't make sense of the results or I'm unfamiliar with the experiments.

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The results and methods sections allow you to pull apart a paper to ensure it stands up to scientific rigor. Always think about the type of experiments performed, and whether these are the most appropriate to address the question proposed.

Ensure that the authors have included relevant and sufficient numbers of controls. Often, conclusions can also be based on a limited number of samples, which limits their significance. I like to print out the paper and highlight the most relevant information, so on a quick rescan I can be reminded of the major points. Most relevant points would be things that change your thinking about your research topic or give you new ideas and directions.

1. Know what kind of ideas you need to record

What I choose to read is based on relation to my research areas and things that are generating lots of interest and discussion because they are driving the way we do psychology, or science more widely, in new directions. Most often, what I am trying to get out of the papers is issues of methodology, experimental design, and statistical analysis. And so for me, the most important section is first what the authors did methods and second what they found results. Angel Borja, PhD. Related resources Research4Life Training Portal : A platform with free downloadable resources for researchers.

The Authorship Skills section contains 10 modules, including how to read and write scientific papers, intellectual property and web bibliography along with hands-on activity workbooks. Elsevier Publishing Campus : A free online platform with lectures, interactive training and professional advice on a wide range of topics, from the fundamentals of publishing to broader issues like gender in research and open science. Career Advice portal of Elsevier Connect : Stories include tips for publishing in an international journal, how to succeed in a PhD program, and how to make your mark in the world of science.

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