Reading scientific papers is not an easy task. It takes longer than jumping into The New York Times or The Washington Post, and it costs nothing but your time.
Reading academic literature can be tricky because most journals have specific deadlines for submitting articles and receiving comments from reviewers.
When reading through an article, you will need to know what topic the paper covers, how it relates to other studies, and what conclusions were made. Make sure to look up definitions of important terms such as “metabolic” and “inflammation” to make sure you understand them.
There are several ways to read a scientific journal article. You can use the print version, online versions, or both. Some may seem easier to navigate than others, so do whatever works best for you!
This article will go over some basic steps for reading a scientific paper via print and/or online versions. There are also some helpful tips and tricks to improve your reading process. Keep in mind that printed copies usually have more detail than an abstract, so those two things should be examined together.
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Read the journal’s abstract
The abstract is an integral part of any article, including ones in scientific journals. This is your first exposure to what the paper is about so it should be very careful and precise. It will typically try to summarize the main points of the article.
The abstract comes right after the introduction or prelude section of the paper. In fact, the introductions are sometimes too short and do not give enough context for the readers to understand why they read the rest of the paper. Thus, the abstract becomes one of the most important parts of the article because it gives you the main points quickly and clearly.
It is good practice to read at least the abstract of an article before reading the full article. There is no need to spend time on the content unless you really want to but normal people don’t put much effort into such things.
Read the journal’s introduction
A journal article is usually divided into an introductory paragraph, a main body, and a conclusion. The first part is typically called the abstract or summary because it is generally short and describes the key points of the article.
The main body contains the actual research being discussed in the article and what conclusions were drawn from that research. This part of the article can also include other studies that are related to the topic of the paper and how they influenced the findings.
The final section is the conclusion which reiterates the overall message of the article and includes callouts for readers to do next. Sometimes there is a recommendation based on the results of the study.
Reading scientific papers is not just about learning science, but also about reading tone and emphasis put on the material by the authors. Different writers use different styles and approaches to get their messages across.
Some may be more formal and academic with greater levels of detail, while others may be brief and quick. You should look at both types of articles to gain insight as to how professional scientists write.
Read the journal’s methods
The first thing you should do is read the journal’s method section. This gives more detail about what tools were used for analysis, how many participants there were in the study, and if the researchers controlled for something in the design of the experiment.
It also includes information such as whether the research was funded by someone or through an independent source like a government agency or nonprofit organization. And it confirms whether the authors have conflicts of interest that could influence their findings. All this crucial information cannot be assumed but must be verified via direct communication with the author(s).
By reading these sections, your assumptions can be confirmed or refuted. As readers are giving credit to the writer of the article for using certain techniques and confirming they worked, we owe it to ourselves to take another look to see if these apply to our own areas of research.
Read the results
The first step in reading scientific research is to read the abstract, then the introduction, and finally the main body of the paper.
The abstract is very short (1-2 sentences) and includes a reader’s name and date. It usually gives an overview of what happened in the study, who conducted it, and some conclusions or points made by the researchers.
This is not a summary of the rest of the article – it is instead a quick note about the piece itself. So, be sure to read the whole thing before interpreting the findings!
Just like with any other type of writing, different readers will have different insights depending on their knowledge base and experiences.
In the case of science articles, there are certain terms that have fixed meanings. For example, studies always include either a placebo or active control group.
A placebo is something without anything extra such as sugar pills or fake drugs. An active control condition is one that has been shown to work for and/or harm the test subjects and is typically used for comparison.
Scientific journal articles are often long and complex so try to prioritize accuracy over speed when accessing them.
You can now save lots of time by using our free access tool which makes it easy to download all the documents from a publication quickly. Find out more here.
Analyze the results
The next step in reading scientific journals is analyzing the results of the studies! This includes looking at how much effect the treatments had, as well as studying whether there were any side effects.
It is very important to look past what the study authors wrote about the treatments themselves and instead focus on evaluating the results of the experiment. There are several ways to do this.
You can read the conclusions of the paper, but be sure to also check out Part 2 where the researchers discussed their findings. You can compare the results with other studies or with your own experiences to see if the treatments worked for someone else.
There are many different strategies used to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment, so you should become familiar with some of them.
Review the methods
Recent developments in reading scientific publications have come through the use of software that can scan articles, determine key terms, and provide an overall interpretation or summary of what the article is about.
There are several good free and paid applications that do this. The best ones test your text against their database of known articles and definitions to see if it represents that content well!
Given that most academic journals now offer access via pre-paid subscription sites like ResearchGate or Academia.edu, using one of these summation tools is a nice way to gain some knowledge without having to buy a journal membership.
You should also know which style of writing suits your topic and goal for research. Using appropriate vocabulary and tone helps convey the importance of the information being conveyed.
Lastly, remember that not all sources are equal! Make sure you evaluate how trustworthy the source is before relying on them as fact.
Is the study reliable?
The second major question you must ask yourself is whether or not the study was rigorous enough to be considered scientific. This means considering how well the researchers conducted their experiment, what they included in their studies, and whether there were any confounding factors that may have influenced the results.
There are many ways to evaluate the reliability of a research study, but one of the most important things to look for is if the researcher(s) involved conducted appropriate statistical analyses.
It is impossible to determine the true effect of a treatment unless we control for possible biases, variables, and potential confounders. Statistical analysis involves testing hypotheses about the effects of independent (or external) variables on dependent (or internal) variables.
By using appropriate statistical methods to analyze data, these can be ruled out as sources of bias or error. Generalized linear models and regression analysis are two common types of statistics used to assess clinical trials.
Is the study valid?
The second question to ask is whether or not the conclusions of the paper are accurate. A key part of scientific methodology is using strong, rigorous research practices to test your hypotheses.
As you read through an article, think about how credible the authors were in their claims and if these claims make sense for the given context. Was this paper written by people with a clear agenda? If so, then it may be difficult to take their findings seriously.
The author’s credentials should also play a role in determining the validity of the claim. An academic who does not have a strong track record might try to draw unwarranted conclusions about the topic under review.