Critical reading: how to read a scientific article

A scientific article might be short, but it is usually dense in information, which can make it harder to read. Below, you can find some tips.

General guidelines

  • Take notes while you read to make sure you understand what you're reading.
  • Don't know a word? Look it up and write down the meaning.
  • Don't understand a sentence? Write it down and re-read the part of the article it refers to, to determine its meaning.
  • There is a difference between correlation (A seems to have some sort of effect on B; A seems to be statistically related to B) and causation (A causes B): you need to make a distinction between the two.

Reading order

If you haven't found a reading order that fits for you yet, you can try the following steps. Depending on the type of article you're reading, you can skip a step!

  1. Start with the title and the abstract. Based on this, you can determine whether or not reading the entire article is interesting or relevant enough for your research.
  2. If it sparks interest, continue with the introduction. Here you will find some background information, the purpose of the paper, the research question(s), and method. Summarise these and definitely jot down the research questions.
  3. The next portion is the "Discussion" portion of the article. Here you will find more information in greater detail on the research question(s), method and sequences, purpose, and back ground information. Take notes on the interpretations and conclusions made here.
  4. Then, move to "Results". Write down what they are and what that means.
  5. Lastly, read "Material and Methods" to learn how the researcher(s) came to their results.
  6. Now you can connect your notes in a visual manner
  7. Is your overview complete? Return to the abstract and verify if everything in it makes sense to you and if your notes and connections agree with those of the researcher(s). 

If you want to read more on the subject of your article, the reference list is a good place to start looking for relevant articles. Using online databases you can also go ''forward' in time and look for articles that cited the article you just read.

Source reference

Hoe vind en lees je een wetenschappelijk artikel? Een handleiding voor de niet-wetenschapper.” N.p., z.d. Web. 30 mrt. 2017.

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Last modified May 27, 2021, 11:04 a.m.