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How to Read Scientific Papers

This guide is intended for those who would like tips on reading scientific scholarly articles efficiently.

Scholarly scientific papers are not meant to be read straight through like popular articles or books. Instead, it is more efficient to read sections out of order to help determine if the article is what you are looking for.

Read the article in this order:

  1. Title, abstract, authors
  2. Introduction
  3. Conclusion

If the article doesn't seem to fit what you are looking for, stop here. If it is what you're looking for, then continue and read:

  1. Literature review
  2. Discussion
  3. Results 
  4. Methods
  5. References

If you like the article, then re-read it again from beginning to end to help you understand the research more fully. Then read the abstract once more when you're done. It's the authors' summary of their study. Does it match your interpretations of the paper?

Reading Tips:

  1. During your first and second read through, look up terms you aren't familiar with, and highlight and take notes. Note taking and highlighting will help you retain information and are useful if you want to revisit the article in the future. PowerNotes is a useful tool to help you take notes and record your research.
  2. While reading try to figure out why this research study was done. What questions was it trying to address?

When researching, you will come across different types of scientific literature. Here are a few tips to help identify what type of resource you're looking at:

1. Primary scientific papers are usually what we think of when we imagine scientific papers. They are peer-reviewed, list authors and their affiliations, and have the following sections:

  • Abstract, usually mentions performing a study or an investigation
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review, usually short
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References or works cited list

*They may also have keywords, graphs, tables, and appendices. Sometimes these papers will combine sections or call sections by different titles.  Example:

‚Äč2. Scientific review articles are peer-reviewed, and list their authors and affiliations, but do not usually have a methods section like a primary article. Instead, review articles are like a longer literature review, and summarize and analyze the state of research on a given topic. Often, the words "a review" are in the article's title. They are a great source to learn about key papers and developments about a particular topic. Example:

*Both primary and review scientific articles are found in UT Libraries' databases, and are published in scholarly journals. 

3. Grey literature is materials and research that is produced by experts outside of traditional scholarly publishing. Grey literature can be reports, white papers, government documents, working papers, conference proceedings, and theses and dissertations. 

4. Popular and trade articles are not peer-reviewed and are not written with scientific researchers as an audience. They are meant to inform general audiences and trade professionals on recent developments. They are usually found in magazines and websites.