Reading Scientific Articles

Studying at the college level may feel overwhelming or intimidating. This guide provides different strategies that you can use when reading scientific articles. Scientific articles are a peer-reviewed articles that aim to share current research and new technology in the sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, medical, etc.).

General Format

Scientific articles typically include section headings: Abstract, Introduction or Background, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. This is a general format, so keep in mind that sections may be separated or combined.

ABSTRACT

The abstract, typically 150-250 words long, includes information about the article as a whole with each sentence detailing a specific part. The first few sentences introduce the topic of the article and thesis statement, then the next few describe the methods. The remaining sentences highlight major results and conclusions from the study.

INTRODUCTION

The introduction provides background information and gets the reader up-to-date on the article topic, past research that’s been conducted, and the author’s goals and objectives.

METHODS AND RESULTS

The methods and results sections are often the most daunting parts of a scientific article to read because they contain so much information (e.g. jargon, statistical tests, and results). Jargon are specialized words (words/phrases or common techniques) used by a certain group of professionals or field of study.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

The discussion and conclusion sections are where the author’s ideas and results come together. The discussion is used to put the resulting numbers into context, and the conclusion is where the authors describe the importance of the research and what can be done in the future.

Reading Strategies

Below are tips & tricks for reading through scientific articles.

IDENTIFY COMMON SYMBOLS AND JARGON

≠ means “does not equal” or “is not the same as”

< means “is less than”

> means “is greater than”

≈ means “is approximately equal”

GO SECTION BY SECTION

Take a break between paragraphs or sections. Make a note to yourself describing the main ideas, results, or conclusions for each section. Circle or underline words you don’t understand and look them up before moving forward. You might see these words throughout the article!

USE FIGURES AND TABLES

Make sure you take a look at the charts, graphs, images, or tables you come across (Figure #) or (Table #) while reading. The authors included them for a reason; use them to help you understand confusing sections of the text.

MAKE CONNECTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

Try to make connections between the authors’ main ideas and what you know about the topic or what you’ve learned in class. Was this an assigned reading? Can you relate it to class content?

  • Ask yourself: How does this article relate to my topic? To what we’re learning in class? Do I understand why the researchers came to their conclusions? Do I need to go back and reread sections? Take better notes?
  • Analysis: Does this relate to my current research? Is the article relevant and credible? Do I have a good understanding of the techniques used and why they were used? Are the statistical tests confusing? Do I need to do more research to understand this article? Does this give me ideas on a new angle for future research?

This information is adapted from the GVSU Libraries Subject Guides.

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