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MEERL Program Library Guide

How to Read a Scientific Paper

After you've read the abstract and decided whether or not an article is relevant to your topic, you'll have to read the full-text. It's very easy for the articles to start to blend together, so it's important to come up with a method for note-taking and synthesizing what you've read.

There are lots of methods researchers like to use when reading scientific articles, but in general, there are some common steps:

  1. Read the abstract - abstracts will contain a summary of the article including the purpose, methodology, major findings, and the impact of those findings. This information can act as signposts as you read the rest of the article. 
  2. Read the discussion and the conclusion - what are the detailed impacts of the research? what big questions does it help to answer? what are the next steps?
  3. Scan the figures, graphs, and images - these should help tell the story
  4. Read the whole article and annotate (make notes) either digitally or on a printed copy
  5. Transfer your annotations to a synthesis matrix