Infographic: How to read a scientific paper

Mastering this skill can help you excel at research, peer review – and writing your own papers

Infographic tips article

Much of a scientist’s work involves reading research papers, whether it’s to stay up to date in their field, advance their scientific understanding, review manuscripts, or gather information for a project proposal or grant application. Because scientific articles are different from other  texts, like novels or newspaper stories, they should be read differently.

Research papers follow the well-known IMRD format — an abstract followed by the Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. They have multiple cross references and tables as well as supplementary material, such as data sets, lab protocols and gene sequences. All those characteristics  can make them dense and complex. Being able to effectively understanding them is a matter of practice.

You can use ScienceDirect’s recommendations service to find other articles related to the work you’re reading. Once you've registered, the recommendations engine uses an adaptive algorithm to understand your research interests. It can then find related content from our database of more than 3,800 journals and over 37,000 book titles. The more frequently you sign in, the better it gets to know you, and the more relevant the recommendations you'll receive.

Reading a scientific paper should not be done in a linear way (from beginning to end); instead, it should be done strategically and with a critical mindset, questioning your understanding and the findings. Sometimes you will have to go backwards and forwards, take notes and have multiples tabs opened in your browser.

Here are some tips for reading and understanding research papers.

References

Related resources

  • Research4Life Training Portal: A platform with free downloadable resources for researchers. The Authorship Skills section Elsevier Publishing Campuscontains 10 modules, including how to read and write scientific papers, intellectual property and web bibliography along with hands-on activity workbooks.
  • Elsevier Publishing Campus: A free online platform with lectures, interactive training and professional advice on a wide range of topics, from the fundamentals of publishing to broader issues like gender in research and open science.

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