How to Read a Scientific Paper

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How to Read a Scientific Paper

When reading a Science Paper, we have to focus on identifying some basic informations. Therefore, we have to first understand how to identify each of them:

Background: Every paper presents the scenario in the previous literature that left a door open, leading to the present study. Usually, the authors start talking about it in order to address their own question.

Question: What is the question that authors designed the study to answer? Usually, it is presented right after presenting the previous literature.

Logic: What is the rationale of the experiment? In other words, why does it make sense to do the experiment in the way it was done?

Method: First thing to do is to identify the name of the Method. If you don’t know anything about the Method, you should google it before reading more about the Method… and identify:

  • Stimulus: what was presented to the subject
  • Task: what was the subject asked to do
  • Independent variable (IV): the variable that affects the DV (*)
  • Dependent variable (DV): the variable being measured; what is varying in the experiment that is affected by IV or correlated to the IV(*).

It is worth noting that most of the time the IV and DV are included in the paper title.

Results: What are the results of the experiment? Usually, they present many results but always emphasizing the result that is the most important. The results are very specific, and most of the times expressed in numbers, percentages, and statistical results. If you don’t know how to interpret them, skip to the conclusion… but keep in mind that is necessary to understand statistics in order to evaluate the liability of the paper.

Conclusion: How do the authors interpret the results?  What conclusion do they make from them?

(*) More about IV and DV: http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/help/user_guide/graph/variables.asp

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