Infographic: How to read a scientific paper

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

 Natalia Rodriquez is Communications Coordinator at Research4Life.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.

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.


Related resources

  • Research4Life     Training Portal: A     platform with free downloadable resources for researchers. The Authorship     Skills section contains 10 modules, including how to read and write     scientific papers, intellectual property and web bibliography along with     hands-on activity workbooks.
  • Elsevier Publishing CampusElsevier     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.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Natalia Rodriguez (@rodrigueznats) is the Communications Coordinator  for Research4Life, a public-private partnership providing access to scientific information to researchers, academics, students, doctors and other professionals in the developing world. Natalia holds a BSc in biology and an MSc in science communication from     Delft University of Technology     in the Netherlands. Before joining Research4Life, she worked in the Elsevier's Global Communications department in Amsterdam.

Currently based in Bremen, Germany, Natalia also works as a freelance creative for different organizations, finding innovative ways to communicate science and development.

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