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Who among you has read a scientific paper before? Well, I know a lot of you have probably read a scientific paper at least once, but the real question is – did you read it correctly?

A scientific paper is a unique literature because it is where scientists present their ideas. With that said, you might need to follow certain rules on how to read it correctly so the entire material makes sense.

For non-experience scientists, it is really hard to understand a scientific paper because it follows a unique sequence of information called IMRD which stands for Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussions. Unlike ordinary books, it contains data and lab experiments which are, oftentimes, hard to grasp.

Tip 1: Start reading the abstract, then the conclusion

Many first-timers read a scientific paper in chronological order only to find out that the conclusion is entirely irrelevant to their research.

Unfortunately, most people have to learn it the hard way that reading a scientific paper requires a different order. So to save time in reading a long set of data, it is important to first read the abstract.

An abstract is that dense paragraph on the first page, which contains the summary of the scientific paper. Reading it first will give you a “big picture” whether the described work is something you’re interested in or whether it is relevant to your study.

After reading the abstract, flip the pages to the conclusion to see if the researcher has reached his goals. Then you can ask yourself, “Did the researcher find something consequential to my study?” “Is the paper something I can use for my own research?”

If the answer is affirmative, you can keep the paper. Otherwise, you can skip it and check another paper.

Tip 2: Identify the main concern of the scientific paper

It’s not enough to ask what the paper is all about. Rather, try to figure what the problem is trying to solve. Is it trying to challenge an old scientific assumption or is it trying to establish a new scientific principle? Does it address a current scientific issue?

The best way to know the issues is to read the Statement of the Problem. This section will give you a clear and concise description of the problems that are being tackled by the author.

This helps keep your focus on the main concern rather than skimming blindly throughout the pages.

Tip 3: Get the relevant points

Normally, after reading the conclusion, you’ll eventually know which sections to check out next.

If everything is still shady, you can speed-read through the headings and subheadings to find out the main points mentioned in the conclusion. Check which specific chapter contains the complete discussion on the questions presented. Once you find it, try to read it thoroughly while bearing these questions as a guide to spot the significant points:

“Did the author resolved the issues in his research?”

“What are the recommendations given by the author in the particular scientific scenario?”

“Can you enumerate the proposed solutions given by the research according to your own understanding?”

Tip 4: Identify how the author answered his research questions

There are two sections that will help you determine the process done by the author to answer the questions presented in his research paper – Methodology and Data analysis.

Consequently, the only way to understand how the author arrived at his conclusions is to read the Methodology and Data Analysis. The Methodology lays down the steps taken in collecting data (e.g. surveys, archival research, and interviews). The Data Analysis is the experimentations done by the author to make sense of the infinite data that he collected.

This part will truly test your patience. In most cases, the methodology and data analysis are really long. So you have to take time in reading them. Read every word and understand the meaning in between the lines. Conduct further research if you encounter foreign terms.

Just a tip – the only way you can empathize the author is to imagine yourself in his position. As you get through every step, try to ask questions such as the following:

“Is he doing the correct experiment?”

“Are their important data that the author probably missed?”

“Do you think the author has done enough?”

If you’re doing a research on a similar topic, this will give you an idea the steps to be done to answer your own scientific problems.

Tip 5: Re-read the methodology and take note

Oftentimes, the hardest part of a scientific paper is the methodology. There are scientific papers that contain difficult data and to some people, they don’t make sense at all.

If you don’t understand them in your first reading, try to read them again. Take notes and draw a diagram for each experiment when necessary. Include as many information as you need to fully grasp the process. Then decode your notes according to your own understanding.

Don’t move into the next section unless you understand the methodology and data analysis because these are crucial information for your next step.

Tip 6:  Read the results section carefully

The results section will tell you what the author finds out after applying the researchmethods.

When you read this section, always think about the type of experiments performed and connect them with the findings of the author.

“Did the experiments make sense at all?”

“Did they yield in a favorable result?”

“What did the author find out after doing the experiments?”

If you find difficult terms and symbols, you can quickly skim through the Index or Glossary of Terms to find their meaning. In fact, you can supplement information by researching online to support your understanding.

What makes reading a scientific paper unique is that it requires a more comprehensive approach in contrast with reading ordinary textbooks. You don’t just decide what every figure means. At some point, you may need to go the extra mile to understand its precise statistical meaning.

Tip 7: Read the Scope and Limitations of the Study

Scientific papers are very specific because researchers have to narrow them down to only one scientific problem. So if you think the findings and results are lacking, try to read the Scope and Limitations of the Study.

This section of the paper will tell you the inclusions and exclusions of the paper. Forexample, if the research is about “tracing back the history of Paleo Diet to prehistoric people in the U.S. and testing its effectiveness on the present generation”, then you can’t expect to find a history about the people in Germany.

Considering the territorial particularity of the example, the Scope and Limitation may tell you that the research is only applicable in the U.S. or that the experiment will only focus on its effect to weight loss rather than to cure diseases in the country mentioned.

Tip 8: Go deeper into the arguments

As you read further, you will realize that the scientific paper is starting to make sense. When you feel like you finally understand try to go deeper into the arguments.

Find out how the researcher defended his hypothesis. If you’re doing the same research, you can actually follow the same argumentation and apply it in your thesis.

Go further into the figures and discussions while thinking the new and exciting information in the literature. Also, take note of the pieces that fit your pre-existing hypothesis and research problems.

Tip 9: Keep taking notes

When reading a scientific paper, it helps to have a writing task instead of plainly gazing over the tremendous chunks of black texts only to forget everything after a couple of hours.

So when you read the different sections in the scientific paper, try to record some comments in your Word Document. It could be an idea, a constructive criticism, an argument, or a question that you need to delve further.

In the future, you will only need to read your comments instead of re-reading the entire scientific paper.

Tip 10: Read the References

The references are probably the last thing that you would check. In fact, most people just ignore them.

What you might know is that the References are as important as the rest of texts in a scientific paper. The References contain the list of resources that the author used to write his scientific paper.

It’s important to read them to see some books or journals that you may be interested for your future research. Sometimes, it also pays to find out more information which the author might have failed to include from his reference.

Sometimes, it is overwhelming to read a scientific paper, especially when it is terribly written. In case, you’re still confused, remember that someone else has surely written a better version of the concepts you’re reading right now.

So my final advice is that don’t be afraid to choose another scientific paper and focus on more the substance rather than the poor grammar.
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