How to read a scientific paper

  • Thread starter Ryan_m_b
  • Start date
  • #1
Ryan_m_b
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
5,956
720
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:

I want to help people become more scientifically literate, so I wrote this guide for how a layperson can approach reading and understanding a scientific research paper. It’s appropriate for someone who has no background whatsoever in science or medicine, and based on the assumption that he or she is doing this for the purpose of getting a basic understanding of a paper and deciding whether or not it’s a reputable study...

http://violentmetaphors.com/2013/08/25/how-to-read-and-understand-a-scientific-paper-2/
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Pythagorean
Gold Member
4,360
292
Good resource. My pet peeve is #1.
 
  • #3
Ben Niehoff
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,887
168
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.
 
  • #4
AlephZero
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
7,025
297
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.
 
  • #5
Ryan_m_b
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
5,956
720
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.
 
  • #6
Office_Shredder
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2021 Award
5,341
1,290
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
 
  • #7
Pythagorean
Gold Member
4,360
292
Specific instructions are arbitrary, but seeing other people's strategies is informative.
 
  • #8
SteamKing
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
12,809
1,670
Some papers, when read upside down, don't make anymore sense than when read rightside up.
 

Suggested for: How to read a scientific paper

  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
393
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
372
  • Last Post
Replies
13
Views
831
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
394
Replies
12
Views
473
  • Last Post
Replies
9
Views
1K
Top