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How to read a scientific paper

  1. Aug 28, 2013 #1

    Ryan_m_b

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    I came across this blog entry on how to read and understand a scientific paper and thought I'd share it here. It's very accessible and right on the money IMO, especially point 2 which is very basic but I often see people fail to do. Enjoy all :smile:

    http://violentmetaphors.com/2013/08/25/how-to-read-and-understand-a-scientific-paper-2/
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 28, 2013 #2

    Pythagorean

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    Good resource. My pet peeve is #1.
     
  4. Aug 28, 2013 #3

    Ben Niehoff

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    That's very thorough. My usual modus operandi is:

    1. Skip all the words because probably the authors are not describing what they've done in the same words I would use. I want to see if what they've done is interesting to me before I invest a lot of time.

    2. Keep scrolling down until you see some equations. Are they interesting equations? Scroll through a section or two of equations and see if they lead anywhere.

    3. Get tired of spinning the scroll wheel and just hit End to jump to the bottom. Scroll back up past the References and Conclusions and look at the last few lines of equations. Did the paper go anywhere interesting?

    4. Read the Conclusions. Hmm, so that's what they did, in their interpretation.

    5. If that's interesting, jump back up to Section 2 (the one after the Introduction), and read the story in more detail.

    6. Finally, read the Introduction and then the Conclusions again. This is where, hopefully, the authors have pointed out other related papers that might be useful to dig up.

    This method is geared toward finding papers that I can use; not so much toward understanding every detail. Probably isn't an effective method for learning new things.
     
  5. Aug 28, 2013 #4

    AlephZero

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    If this is really "a guide for non-scientists" it's completely wrong IMO.

    Step 1: Learn some science. If you can't be bothered to do that, stop here!

    Step 2: Ignore the how-to guide, because it no longer applies to you.
     
  6. Aug 28, 2013 #5

    Ryan_m_b

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    I agree it is necessary to know something about the subject matter to properly understand a paper but even then this is good advice for how to read a paper critically.
     
  7. Aug 28, 2013 #6

    Office_Shredder

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    Aleph, the two questions are:

    1) How much science is required to learn before this how to guide is unnecessary and I am capable of picking up a paper and reading it front to back straight up and understand the paper at the end

    2) How much science knowledge is required to follow the advice of this article and understand the paper from that.

    If 2 is smaller than 1 by at least the amount of additional time I will spend reading the paper by following this article, then the information is useful. And I suspect this is very true
     
  8. Aug 28, 2013 #7

    Pythagorean

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    Specific instructions are arbitrary, but seeing other people's strategies is informative.
     
  9. Sep 7, 2013 #8

    SteamKing

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    Some papers, when read upside down, don't make anymore sense than when read rightside up.
     
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