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Independent Research Project: How to Read Scientific Articles: Home

How to Read a Scientific Article

How to Read a Peer-Reviewed Article

Reading articles that are "above our heads" is one way that we learn and grow as scholars. Don't be afraid to tackle a "hard" article. You'll be surprised at what you can do! 

Here's a more introductory-level option for reading a scientific paper:

1. Take a first pass over the article

  • Read the Abstract.
  • Read the Introduction.
  • Skim the body of the paper, including the research methodology, sample sizes, statistical methods, etc. 
  • Skim the Discussion.
  • Read the Conclusion.

2. If the article looks like something you might want to use, put it aside for a day or so. 

3. Read the article again, following the steps above, but this time use your favorite methods for active reading:

  • highlight
  • make notes in the margins
  • identify important concepts
  • identify words you need to look up in other sources

4. You may need to read an article three or four (or more) times, but that's OK! The secret is to give yourself enough time to read, re-read, and absorb the information. 

5. Your teacher or a librarian are happy to help you interpret articles.

Try it yourself!

  1. Open this article (you may need to log in using the database's log-in/password): Less is Sometimes More: Goal Content Matters
  2. Choose the PDF Option
  3. Spend a few minutes reading the article, applying the principles for "Learning How to Read Scientific Article." 
  4. Be prepared to discuss five things you learned, or five questions you have, from your initial look at this article. 

Recommended Databases

Database Search Tips

  • Brainstorm a list of keywords related to your topic before searching (avoid writing long phrases or questions)
  • Narrow results using subjects
  • Consider relevancy of study by looking at date it was published
  • Check off "Peer Reviewed" in database search to filter results to more reliable studies