The Science of ReadingMy reading strategy is contingent upon the paper. Sometimes I start by skimming through to see just how much may be relevant. If it is directly related to my current subject, I will read the paper carefully, apart from the introduction that is most likely already familiar. However, I try to figure out whether there are specific places or figures which I want to pay close attention to, and then I go and read the associated data in the results and discussion.
All the time. In case the paper is pertinent to an issue I am trying to resolve, you can make confident there are key things in the paper that I do not understand. That confusion is not a threat; it is an opportunity. I am ignorant; I need to be ignorant. This paper may assist me.
I also check whether there are references which I may be interested in. Sometimes I'm curious to see who in the area has--or more probably hasn't--been referenced, to check if the writers are choosing to ignore certain details of the research. I often discover that the supplementary characters actually offer the most curious and interesting results, particularly if the results relate to parts of the field that the authors did not mention or if they are unclear or intolerant to their interpretation of the overall story.
Write a couple of paragraphs to summarize the results for each experiment, every figure, and each table. Do not yet attempt to choose what the outcomes imply; just write what they are. You'll often find that results are outlined in the tables and figures. Pay careful attention to them! You might also need to visit supplementary online information documents to find a few of the outcomes. Also pay attention to:
As I go deeper in the argument framing, characters, and conversation, I consider which pieces are new and exciting, which ones are logically relevant, and which ones are supported by the literature. I also consider which pieces match with my pre-existing hypotheses and research questions.
When reading newspapers, it will help me to have a writing task so I'm being a busy reader instead of allowing my eyes glaze over mountains of text only to forget what I just read. So for instance, when I read for background information, I'll save insightful sentences from each article about a specific topic in a Word document. I'll write remarks along the way about fresh ideas I got or queries I want to explore further. Afterward, in the future, I'll only have to read this record rather than re-reading all the individual papers.
I typically begin with the abstract, which provides me a brief snapshot of what the study is about. Then I read the entire article, leaving the approaches to the finish unless I can not make sense of the results or I am not knowledgeable about the experiments.
I like to see online so I can easily cut and paste words that I do not understand into a browser to check what they mean.
7. Read the outcomes section.
11. Learn what other investigators say about the paper.
If I feel the paper is very important to what I'm doing, I'll leave it some time and return to it again a couple of times. But if it's too overpowering, then I have to leave it apart, unless somebody among the colleagues I've contacted has managed to interpret it.
4. Describe the specific query(s).
I start with abstract and title. That tells me whether it's an article I am interested in and if I'll actually have the ability to understand it --both clinically and linguistically. I then read the introduction so that I can understand the issue being framed, and jump right to the figures and tables so I can find a sense of the data. I then read the discussion to get an notion of how the paper fits into the overall body of knowledge.
It is dependent upon how much the non-understandable bits prevent me from following the main ideas. I usually do not attempt to know every detail in all sections that the first time that I read a newspaper. If non-understandable parts look important for my study, I attempt to ask colleagues or perhaps get the lead author directly. Going back to the original references to get all of the background information is the last resort, since time can be limited and collaborations and personal contacts may be much more effective in solving particular issues.
Not "what's this paper about?" But "What issue is that this entire area trying to address?" This makes it possible to concentrate on why this study is being done. Look carefully for evidence of agenda-motivated research.
Reading a scientific paper is a completely different process from reading an article about science in a blog or newspaper. Not only do you read the sections in a different sequence than they are presented, but you also need to take notes, read it multiple times, and probably go look up other newspapers in order to understand some of the particulars. Reading one paper may take you a lengthy time initially, but be patient with yourself. The process will go much faster as you gain experience.
Which are the authors going to do to answer the specific question(s)?
Then I skim the debut and reverse through the guide to examine the figures. I attempt to identify the most prominent one or two figures, and I really make sure I know what is going on in them. Then, I read the conclusion/summary. Only when I have done that will I go back into the technical facts to clarify some questions I might have.
Also, get a fantastic reference supervisor. Mendeley helps me perform my research, read books, and write papers.
The question I ask myself is, "Can I need to understand what that means in order to get exactly what I need from this newspaper?" I read articles in study areas well outside of my experience, and I often do not need more than superficial understanding of the substantive content. If I can't do anything with the paper unless I don't know that thickness, then I do more background research.
6. Read the methods section.
As editor-in-chief of Science, I must read and understand papers outside of my field all the time. Generally, I start with the editors' summaries, which are meant for somebody like me : a science generalist who's interested in everything but dives deeply just into one area. I personally check to find out if somebody wrote a News article on the newspaper. Third, I check to find out whether there is a Perspective by another scientist. The main goal of a Perspective would be to expand the message of the newspaper, but often the authors do a fantastic job of pulling the essence of the article for non-specialists in precisely the same time.
First I read very fast: The point of the initial reading is simply to check whether the paper is interesting for me. When it is I read it another time, slower and more focus on detail.
I will typically pause immediately to look up things I do not know. The rest of the reading may not make sense if I don't understand an integral phrase or jargon. This can backfire a little, though, as I often go down endless rabbit holes after looking something up (What's X? Oh, X influences Y. ... So what's Y? etc...). This can be sort of fun as you learn how everything is linked, but if you're crunched for time this can pull your attention away from the task at hand.
- Lina A. Colucci, doctoral candidate at the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program
What do you think they mean? Do not proceed until you have thought about this. It's OK to change your mind in light of the writers' interpretation -- in actuality, you most likely will if you're a beginner at this kind of evaluation -- but it is a really good habit to begin forming your personal interpretations before you browse those of others.
What work was done earlier in this field to answer the big question? What are the constraints of that work? What, according to the writers, needs to be done next? You have to be able to explain the reason why this study has been done as a way to comprehend it.
- Cecilia Tubiana, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany
If the topic isn't one I understand well, I usually browse the introduction much more carefully so the study is put into context for me. Then I skim the figures and tables and see the results.
If I am aiming to only get the main things, I will read the abstract, jump to the figures, and then scan the discussion for significant points. I think that the figures are the most significant part the paper, since the abstract and body of the paper could be manipulated and formed to tell a persuasive narrative. Then anything I am unclear about, I head to the methodology.
That is why I developed my own reading strategies, by talking to other scientists and from trial and error. In addition, I have thrown up my hands in frustration and tossed the offending papers away, never to read them.
Then I tackle the abstract, which was composed to broadly communicate to the readership of the journal. Finally, I move on to the newspaper, reading, in order, the intro, conclusions, scanning the figures, and then reading the paper through.
I nearly always read the abstract first and only continue to the newspaper if the abstract suggests that the paper is going to be of significance to me personally. Next, if the topic of the newspaper is one I know well, I normally skim the introduction, studying its last paragraph to make sure I understand the specific issue being addressed in the paper. I then look at the tables and figures, either skim or read the outcomes, and lastly jump or read the dialogue.
To produce an extremely educated comment on a scientific subject, you have to become familiar with current research in this area. And to be able to differentiate between positive and negative interpretations of research, you need to be willing and able to read the key research literature on your own. Reading and comprehension research papers is a skill that each and every doctor and scientist has needed to learn during grad school. You can learn it as well, but like any skill it takes practice and patience.
3. Summarize the backdrop at five sentences or less.
Be patient. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to use Wikipedia or other, more lay-audience sources such as blog posts to get a feel for your topic. Inquire many, many questions. If you can't get a thorough comprehension of the paper, talk with people on your circle. If you are still confused and it's really important to understand the concepts, email the authors.
2. Identify the big question.
I love to print out the paper and highlight the most pertinent information, therefore on a fast rescan I can be reminded of the more important points. Most relevant points would be things that change your thinking on your research topic or provide you fresh ideas and directions.
10. Go back to the beginning and see the abstract.
If there's a seminal paper I would like to completely comprehend, I find some way to give a journal club-style demonstration about it. Talking about a particular paper and answering questions is the very best way for me to understand the content.
I listen to acknowledgement of limitations and suitable inference of data. Many folks stretch their claims more than others, and that can be a red flag for me. Additionally, I put on my epidemiologist hat so I can attempt to be certain that the study design is adequate to actually examine the hypotheses being analyzed.
- Jeremy C. Borniger, doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Ohio State University, Columbus
Try to maintain a bibliography file with a summary of the article, any important points, even a figure or two, along with citation information. Look closely at different ways of structuring an article, and pay attention to different styles of writing. This can allow you to develop a design that's effective and exceptional.
The decisions allow me to understand if the goal summarized in the abstract was attained, and if the described work could be of interest for my study. I also always look at plots/figures, as they help me get a first impression of a paper. I then usually read the whole article from beginning to finish, moving through the sections in the sequence they appear so that I can follow the flow of work that the writers wish to convey.
Does it match what the writers said in the paper? Does it match with your interpretation of this paper?
5. Identify the approach.
Many of you have come to us asking for more (and more serious) information about the best way to make sense of the science fiction, so we've asked a dozen scientists at different career stages and at a wide range of subjects to inform us how they do it. Even though it's apparent that studying scientific documents becomes easier with experience, the stumbling blocks are real, and it's up to each scientist to identify and apply the techniques which work best for these.
- Kevin Boehnke, doctoral candidate in environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Likewise, when I wish to figure out how to conduct a specific experiment, I produce a useful table in Excel summarizing how a variety of research teams went about performing a specific test.
How do you approach reading a newspaper?
Then, when the authors' study is similar to my own, I see whether their relevant data match our findings or when you can find any inconsistencies. If there are, I consider what could be causing them. Additionally, I think about what could happen in our model if we used the same methods because they did and what we could learn from this. From time to time, it's also important to look closely at why the authors decided to run an experiment in a certain way. Did the authors use an obscure test instead of a routine assay, and why would they do so?
I particularly get overwhelmed if it's not within my subfield, whether it's long, and when it's filled with technical jargon. While this occurs, I break it down into chunks and will read it on the span of a couple of days, if at all possible.
Who are the (acknowledged or self-proclaimed) specialists in this particular field? Can they have criticisms of this study you haven't thought of, or do they generally support it? Do not neglect to do this! Following is a place in which I really do recommend you use Google! But do it survive, so you're better prepared to think critically about what other people say.
I have often felt overwhelmed! But certain sections might not need too deep an understanding as others. You also should know your own limits: Are there a few areas of the newspaper which you would like to emulate but are not part of your expertise and might become "accessible" via collaborations?
The results and methods sections allow you to pull apart a newspaper to ensure it stands up to scientific rigor. Always think about the form of experiments done, and whether these will be the most appropriate to address the question proposed. Ensure that the authors have included relevant and sufficient numbers of controls. Often, conclusions can also be predicated on a restricted number of samples, which restricts their significance.
- Brian Nosek, professor at the Department of Psychology in the University of Virginia and executive director of the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville
At the beginning, new academic readers find it slow because they don't have any frame of reference for what they are reading. However you will find ways to use reading for a system of making a psychological library, and after a couple of decades, it will become easy to slot papers on your own mental shelves. Then you can quickly skim a newspaper to understand its own contribution.
If you want to make it a productive exercise, you want to get a clear idea of which sort of information you want to become in the first place, then concentrate on that aspect. It may be to compare your results with the ones presented by the authors, place your own investigation into context, or expand it using the newly published data. Citation lists can help you decide why the paper may be applicable to you by giving you a first impression of how colleagues who do similar research as you do might have used the paper.
The type of scientific paper I'm talking here is known as a primary research article. It's a peer reviewed report of new research on a specific question (or questions). Most articles will be broken into the following sections: abstract, introduction, methods, results, and conclusions/interpretations/discussion.
If it's just a few things in the guide, I will make a note to look up them later. If I am really struggling to proceed through the newspaper, I attempt to look up a review article or a textbook chapter to provide me the necessary background to move, which I generally find a whole lot more effective.
What I decide to read is based on relation to my research areas and matters which are generating a great deal of discussion and interest because they are driving how we do mathematics, or science much more broadly, in new directions. Most often, what I am trying to get out of the newspapers is issues of methodology, experimental design, and statistical analysis. And so for me personally, the most significant part is first what the authors did (methods) and moment what they found (results).
- McDowellHave you got any other tips you want to share?
Before beginning reading a paper, pay attention to the authors and their institutional affiliations. Also observe the journal where it's published. Be cautious of posts from questionable journals, or sites like Natural News, which may resemble peer-reviewed scientific journals but aren't.
There are a lot of acronyms and jargon which could be subfield-specific, therefore I typically don't wade through the details unless it is for my own research. However, I try to take my time to really understand the methods being used.
1. Begin by studying the introduction, not the abstract.
- FoxWould you feel frustrated reading papers, and how do you deal with this?
In addition, it can be interesting to understand why the writers thought they were doing the study (debut) and what they think the results imply (discussion). When it is a place that I know a lot about, I don't usually care much about those sections since they frequently represent the authors' theoretical predilections and a few of several ways to consider the procedure and results. Nevertheless, when it's a place I know very little about, I read these closely because then I learn a lot about the assumptions and explanatory approaches in this area of research.
The abstract is that dense first paragraph at the very start of a newspaper. In fact, that's often the only component of a paper that lots of non-scientists read when they are trying to construct a scientific argument. (This is a terrible habit. Don't do it.) I browse the abstract last, since it contains a succinct review of the whole newspaper, and I am concerned about inadvertently becoming biased by the authors' interpretation of the results.
Lately, I have had to read a range of papers outside my area of experience with a great deal of unfamiliar jargon. Sometimes, I'm in a position to directly extract the information I want from the results or tables and figures. In other circumstances, I use Google hunts to specify terms and concepts in the newspaper or read the mentioned references to understand the points being made. Occasionally, papers are so incomprehensible (for me, at least) I don't bother reading them.
What exactly are the writers trying to answer with their research? There might be multiple questions, or only one. Write them down. When it's the kind of research that tests one or more null hypotheses, identify it/them.
If the newspaper is critical to my research--and if it is theoretical--I would reinvent the newspaper. In these scenarios, I only take the starting point and then work out everything else in my, not looking into the paper. Sometimes this can be a painfully slow procedure. Sometimes I get angry about the writers not writing clearly enough, omitting essential points and home on superfluous crap. Occasionally I'm electrified by means of a newspaper.
Simultaneously, some newspapers are written horribly and aren't worth the attempt. Someone else has definitely written about the theories clearly so that I can maintain my confusion focused on understanding substance instead of bad grammar.
What do the authors think the results mean? Would you develop any alternative way of translating them? Do the writers identify any flaws in their study? Do you find any that the writers missed? (Do not assume they are infallible!) Can you agree with that?
It's important to understand that shortcuts have to be taken when reading papers so that there's time left to get our other work done, including writing, conducting research, attending meetings, instruction, and grading papers. Beginning as a Ph.D. student, I have been studying the conclusions and methods of academic journal articles and chapters instead of entire books.
Occasionally, all the jargon in a newspaper can cloud the entire stage of these experiments in the first location. In such instances, it can help to ask yourself, "What issue were the writers trying to answer?" Then you can determine whether they succeeded or failed.
Draw a diagram for each experiment, revealing exactly what the authors did. Include as much detail as you have to completely understand the job.
If I want to delve deeper into the newspaper, I typically read it in its entirety and then also read a few of the preceding papers from this category or other articles on precisely the exact same topic. When there's a reference after a statement that I find especially interesting or controversial, I also look this up. If I need more detail, I get some given data repositories or supplemental information.
Step-by-Step Directions for Reading a Primary Research Article
Do not hesitate to speak to more experienced scientists. You will be doing THEM a favor by having them describe to you in terms you know what a intricate paper means. All scientists want more expertise translating complex concepts into shared conditions.
All these have precise statistical meanings. Read more about the here. Can they have error bars on them? The sample size. Has the analysis been conducted on 10 people, or 10,000 individuals? For many research purposes a sample size of 10 is adequate, but for many studies larger is better.
Yes, and in these cases you have to understand that a few papers are the result of years of work by dozens of scientists. Attempting to digest and understand everything in it in one day is a far-fetched idea.
9. Read the conclusion/discussion/interpretation section.
Sometimes, you can just read through a paper and any phrases you're not familiar with will become clearer by the end. If it is very heavy going, then stopping and seeking additional information is normally the way to go. I do a quick Google search on this issue, subject, strategy, jargon, etc.. When it's a very dense article, sometimes it will require a few read-throughs before it starts to make sense.