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BI 360 Animal Behavior: Reading Scientific Papers

Reading a paper: Walk-through

Science in the Classroom provides an annotated walk through that is helpful in putting the pices together when reading scientific literature.

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Reading Research

Reading scientific research doesn't come naturaly for most people. Looking at an article and reading it straight through often doesn't work. Here are some resources to hlep ou get through the toughest of papers.

Try reading in this order:

  1. Title and Abstract
  2. Headings and figures
  3. Introduction
    What larger question is this a part of? The author should summarize and comment on previous research and distinguish between the previous research and the current study. The hypothesis of the paper and the ways it will be tested will be included in this section.
  4. Skip the Methods
    Only look at these if it’s necessary to understand something later or if you will be repeating or modifying the work described in the paper as part of your own research.
  5. Results
    Look first at each figure or table, as they are the heart of most papers. A scientist will often read the figures and tables before deciding to read the rest of the article! Make sure you understand the figures. What does it mean to "understand" a figure? You understand a figure when you can redraw it and explain it.
  6. Discussion
    Start by reading the topic sentence of each paragraph to get a feel for it as a whole. Then read it in full. This section should review the purpose and findings of the paper and contain the conclusions that the author would like to draw. In any case, this is where the author reflects on the work and its meaning in relation to other findings and to the field in general.

Modified from Malezewski, 2010:


Still confused? Check out this more detailed guide: