When you are just beginning to read the research literature in your discipline, understanding a scientific article can be a challenge. The following is a brief guide about how get started reading this literature.
Keep the following concepts in mind before you start:
There is no one correct way to read a scientific article. These are only recommendations and there are alternative approaches; in the end, you will develop a style that works best for you.
Identify the topic, time frame and location of the study.
The abstract gives you a brief summary of the article’s content and is meant to give a snapshot of the author’s purpose, goals, methods, results, and interpretations.
This is where the authors identify their question or hypothesis and put it in the context of what has been done before. At the end of the Introduction, authors will state the purpose of the project and scope of the work.
As you read through this section, as well as others, you will find references to other literature the authors have consulted in preparation for their work. These can be good sources of additional information. Note which ones you will want to look up later.
The abstract and introduction will help you form your thesis.
The Conclusions summarize the context and results of the paper and hightlight the key points of the discussion
Answer these questions before moving forward in the paper. Where is the study area? What kind of data are being collected? How are these data being presented? How are these data being synthesized and integrated with prior work?
These can be challenging to understand and may make more sense after first reading the Discussion and Conclusion. The Discussion section is where the authors interpret the results including how these results relate to the work done by others. Limitations to the interpretation may be acknowledged here. In the Conclusion, the authors will return to their original hypothesis/es from the Introduction and acknowledge whether the data successfully answered or supported the question or hypothesis.
If you haven’t done so already, go back to spend time with the Methods (i.e. how the research was done) and the results sections to see how they support what was said in the Discussion and Conclusion. Pay close attention to tables, charts, figures and maps. Do not just skip over them or gloss over them. When the paper refers to a figure, be sure you are looking at that figure and understand the point the author is making.
Think Critically about the information presented. Did the introduction adequately, correctly, logically and clearly provide the context for a reader to understand the problem to be addressed? Are the methods appropriate to test the hypothesis? Are the data internally consistent? Do the interpretations explain all of the data? Are the conclusions limited to what the data say or do the authors speculate?