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STEM

Reading a Scientific Paper

Reading a scientific paper can seem like a daunting task. However, learning how to properly read a scholarly article can make the process much easier! Understanding the different parts of a scientific article can help the reader to understand the material. 

Title

  • The title of the article can give the reader a lot of information about its contents, such as the topic, major ideas, and participants. 

Abstract

  • Abstracts help to summarize the article and give the reader a preview of the material they are about to read. The abstract is very important and should be read with care. 

Introduction

  • The introduction will provide an explanation to the purpose of the article. Usually, this will also include other relevant research or data that can help the reader understand the material in the article. The research question will be presented in this part of the article and should help the reader to understand what the author expected to find or understand. When reading the introduction it is best to keep a few questions in mind:
    • What is the article's purpose being stated in the introduction?
    • Why would this article be of interest to experts in the field?
    • What is already known, or not known, about this topic? 
    • What specifically is the hypothesis? If one is not given, what are the expectations of the author?
  • Having these questions in mind when reading the introduction can help the reader gain an understanding of the article as a whole. A good research article will answer these questions in the introduction and be consistent with their explanation throughout the rest of the article. 

Method

  • The method section of a scientific paper guides the reader through the approach taken with the experiment or research. This section answers why the researcher chose specific procedures and justifies the design of the experiment. When reading the methods section, keep these questions in mind:
    • What are the specific methods used by the researcher?
    • Does the researcher provide a coherent and viable plan for their experiment?
    • Has the author missed any variables that could effect the results of their findings?
    • How do the methods in this article compare with similar articles?

Results

  • The results are the findings from the experiment. It is important that the results section simply states the outcome of the experiment or research, without interpretation. Many times, this section will include numerical or statistical evidence, along with graphs, charts, or other figures. When reading the results sections of an article, keep these questions in mind:
    • How do the results relate to the hypothesis stated in the introduction? 
      • Ex: they are correlated and support the hypothesis, they contradict they hypothesis, ect. 
    • If there are differences from the hypothesis, what differences did the researcher find?
    • Are the findings described in an unbiased way?

Discussion

  • The discussion summarizes the finding from the experiment or research. This section highlights the interpretation from the data, new discoveries, or other relevant information that have come from the article. The author will propose new research or insights into the problem undertaken in the introduction. When reading the discussion, keep these questions in mind:
    • Is there new information presented that wasn't known before?
    • Is the researcher unbiased in their presentation?
    • What are the real-world implication of the findings? 
      • Ex: More research needs to be done, the findings show a solution to a known problem, etc.
    • What suggestions are made about future research? If no suggestions are made, should there be?

Conclusion

  • The conclusion points out the important findings from the experiment or research. Occasionally, it will incorporated into the discussion section of the paper. 

General Tips

  • Fully comprehending a scientific article will most likely take more than one read. Don't be discouraged if you don't understand everything the first time, reading scientific papers is a skill that is developed with practice. 
  • Start with the broad and then to the specific. Begin by understanding the topic of the article before trying to dig through all the fine points the author is making. 
  • Always read the tables, charts, and figures. These will give a visual clue to the methods and results sections of the paper and help you to understand the data. The author put these in the paper for a reason, don't dismiss their importance. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions or look up definitions. If you do not understand a term or concept, do not be afraid to ask for help or look up an explanation.