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BIO 243L - Process of Life (Dr. Page)


For your Lab Assignments here are a few tips that will help you get started.  

Strategies for Reading & Understanding Scientific Articles

Reading scientific articles can seem like a complex task, but when we learn how to read an article, it becomes more understandable.  Instead of approaching an article like a text book, reading from the beginning to end, instead scientific articles should be read strategically and with a critical mindset.  Below are some strategies to employ to help you be successful.  


Skim the Article and Identify its Structure

Most journals use the IMRD format: an abstract followed by the Introduction, Methods, Results & Discussion.  

  • Abstract: should tell the reader the purpose of the study, methodology used, the results of the study and a brief conclusion 
  • Introduction: should create reader's interest in the subject and provide enough information to understand the article
  • Methods: tells the reader what experiments were done to answer the question stated in the Introduction
  • Results: should contains results or statements of what was found and reference data shown in visuals (figures and tables)
  • Discussion: places the work in context of the broader field, provides a clear answer to the question posed in the Introduction, and explains how the results support the conclusion


Best Order to Read Scientific Articles:

  1. Abstract: this will give you an overview of the important findings
  2. Introduction: be sure to focus on the last paragraph or final sentences.  This is where the authors have summed up their article and will sometimes preview their results.
  3. Results & Discussion: First read through the headings then work your way through the figures to match them to the text in the article.  
  4. Experimental Section: usually the least important section of the article, unless you are trying to replicate a synthesis.  


Distinguish the Main Points

Articles contain a lot of information.  Here are some ways to distinguish the main points from the subordinate points in the articles. 

  • At the document level, you can look at the following to get an idea of the main points: Title, Abstract, Keywords, visuals (figures/tables), 
  • Within the text, sometimes words or phrases can also be key to distinguish the main points: we hypothesize that, we propose, we introduce, we develop, the data suggests, has seldom been addressed, and in contrast with previous work


Generate questions and be aware of your understanding

It's important to ask yourself questions as you read.  Before and during your reading of the article you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are these authors? What journal is this? Might I question the credibility of the work?
  • Have I taken the time to understand all the terminology?
  • Have I gone back to read an article or review that would help me understand this work better?
  • Am I spending too much time reading the less important parts of this article?
  • Is there someone I can talk to about confusing parts of this article?

After reading through the article you can ask some the following questions:

  • What specific problem does this research address? Why is it important?
  • Is the method used a good one?
  • What are the specific findings? Am I able to summarize them in one or two sentences?
  • Are the findings supported by persuasive evidence?
  • Is there an alternative interpretation of the data that the author did not address?
  • How are the findings unique/new/unusual or supportive of other work in the field?
  • How do these results relate to the work I’m interested in? To other work I’ve read about?
  • What are some of the specific applications of the ideas presented here? What are some further experiments that would answer remaining questions?


Draw inferences

Not everything you learn in an article is stated explicitly.  You will need to rely on your knowledge and previous experiences to draw inferences from the material.  


Take notes as you read

Taking notes will help you retain the information that you read and learn.  You can create or follow a template (see article below for example) that will allow easier retrieval if you need to refer back to your notes.  



Reference: Mary Purugganan, PhD, and Jan Hewitt, PhD. “How to Read a Scientific Article,” Cain Project in Engineering andProfessional Communication, Rice University