Author: Marti Lindsey

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					             Some Tips on Reading Research Papers

Author: Marti Lindsey

   o   Why Read Research Papers?
   o   Parts of a Paper
   o   Pre Reading Assesses the Paper
   o   Read the Paper 3 Times
   o   Take Notes While You Read


Why Read Research Papers?
The primary reason academic papers are written is for the author(s) to communicate their ideas,
theories, and discoveries with others, by reporting new results and relating the results to previous
knowledge in the field.

The reasons we read papers include:
o To understand the context of a specific research area
o To help formulate our own research problems
o To see good and bad writing as well as good and bad research
o To learn the techniques used in a particular research area

What should we focus on when we read a research paper?
o Identify the problem being addressed
o Identify the results of the research
o Identify the importance of the results
o Identify which parts of the paper are worth studying in detail

Parts of a Research Paper

Abstract
The abstract usually is less than 300 words and lets the reader get a good impression of what the
paper contains. It provides a brief background on the topic, a concise description of the findings
of the study, and relates those findings to the field of study.
The abstract should summarize:
o area of interest
o methodology
o principal results of the work

Introduction
The introduction presents the background information needed to understand why the findings of
the paper advance the knowledge of the field.
o reflects the planning of the research project
o describes the state of knowledge in the relevant area
o references to work already published
o shows why the more data and the work described in the paper was necessary
o clearly states the hypotheses being tested in the paper
             Some Tips on Reading Research Papers
o describes why the chosen research method is appropriate
o provides a brief description of the major answers to questions posed by the study

Methods
The methods section describes how the research was carried out. It is usually compressed
information. However, it should cover everything relevant to the actual study procedure, how the
data was collected and analyzed. An important criterion when assessing the methods section is to
ask, 'does the author(s) give enough information to allow me to repeat the study?' If the answer
to this is no, then the methods section is not detailed enough. Often this section refers to previous
work of the author.

Results
The results represent a summary and analysis of the data, which follows logically from the
introduction. Usually the results section should simply present the results of the work described,
without discussing them. Results are both given and interpreted when they need to refer to
findings not in the paper. Sometimes charts, graphs, and tables will be included here, if they
make presentation of the data clearer. At other times they will be in a separate section.

Discussion
The discussion is where the author(s) draw conclusions from the work described, explain what
they think the data show, acknowledge limitations of the data, show how findings contribute to
knowledge, and correct errors of previous work.

Points of discussion include:
o the initial aims of the investigation been achieved?
o the hypotheses of interest been tested?
o do the results fit-in with other people's work, and what further work needs to be done?

Pre-Reading to assess if the article will be useful to your purpose
o First, review the commonly known facts about your topic, and also become aware of the
   range of thinking and opinions on it. Review your class notes and textbook and browse in an
   encyclopedia or other reference work.
o Make a preliminary list of the subtopics you would expect to find in your reading. These will
   guide your attention and may come in handy as labels for notes.
o If the article suits the readers intended aim then proceed to read it more completely.

Online Encyclopedias that might be helpful are:
Encyclopedia.Com at http://www.encyclopedia.com
Encarta Encyclpedia at http://encarta.msn.com
Wikipedia Encyclpdedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
MedLinePlus Encyclopedia at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/encyclopedia.html

Understanding the author’s point of view:
o Author credits: Learn something about the credentials of the author. Articles often provide
  brief biographical profiles of the authors.
              Some Tips on Reading Research Papers
o Prepare to become part of the writer's audience. After all, authors design texts for specific
  audiences, and becoming a member of the target audience makes it easier to get at the
  author's purpose.
o Prepare to read with an open mind. Critical readers seek knowledge; they do not "rewrite" a
  work to suit their own personalities. Your task as an enlightened critical reader is to read
  what is on the page, giving the writer a fair chance to develop ideas and allowing yourself to
  reflect thoughtfully, objectively, on the text.

Scan the article for pertinent information:
o Suggested steps for critically reading an article. Look at each of the following parts of the
  paper to discover how this article can advance your knowledge.
o The title: Look for key words that have relevance to your topic. This may seem obvious, but
  the title may provide clues to the writer's attitude, goals, personal viewpoint, or approach.
o The opening paragraphs: If the opening shows no relevance, abandon it
o Each topic sentence of the paragraphs of the body: The first sentences of each paragraph will
  give you the author’s main points.
o The closing paragraphs: If the opening seems promising, skim the closing.


Read the paper 3 times to extract information for your purpose
After three readings you will know what to look for in your research reading: facts and theories
that help answer your question and other people's opinions about whether specific answers are
good ones

Read slowly
By slowing down, you will make more connections within the text.

Use the dictionary and other appropriate reference works
If there is a word in the text that is not clear or difficult to define in context: look it up. Every
word is important, and if part of the text is thick with technical terms, it is doubly important to
know how the author is using them. Both dictionary.com and wikipedia.com are good online
dictionaries for this purpose. For health information and to look up health related terms try
Medline Plus dictionary at the National Library of Medicine site
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/mplusdictionary.html.

First read
Abstract: for an overall picture of what the author is trying to communicate
Introduction: to understand the background of the subject and the authors interests
Discussion: to understand the findings of the study and their implications for the field
References: for an idea of the sources of the background information. If the paper is well written,
you should now know:
o what problem the authors are addressing
o why the problem is important
o what the authors solution is
o what their solution contributes to the area
             Some Tips on Reading Research Papers
o how the authors demonstrate/prove that their solutions works and that it improves on other
  solutions in some way(s)

Second Read
Next read through the entire paper starting with the abstract again. Don't skip over figures, re-
read parts that you don't understand. Write down questions you have as you go along.

Third Read
Finally, re-read the paper critically.
o Did the authors do what they said they were going to do?
o What are the important ideas? (just because an author says something is important doesn't
   mean it really is)
o Do their results make sense?
o Are their methods sound?
o What assumptions are they making?
o How does their work fit in with other similar work?
o What improvements/extensions do they contribute?

Take Notes While You Read
o Writing while reading aids your memory in many ways, especially by making a link that is
   unclear in the text concrete in your own writing.
o Both skills will improve by developing a habit of writing notes in conjunction with reading.
o Invest your research time in understanding your sources and integrating them into your own
   thinking
o Find your own words for notes in the margin (or on "sticky" notes). Underlining and
   highlighting are not as effective as your own notes, for developing understanding.

Make notes
Jot down marginal notes and write down ideas in a notebook. Do whatever works for your own
personal taste.
Note for yourself:
o the main ideas
o the thesis
o the author's main points to support the theory

Keep a reading journal
In addition to note-taking, it is often helpful to regularly record your responses and thoughts in a
more permanent place that is yours to consult.

Make an outline of the paper
The idea is to create some organized information about the paper that will help you sort out the
details.
o Highlight the major points of the paper
o This can be as detailed as you need it to be to help you capture the ideas and spark your
    thinking.
             Some Tips on Reading Research Papers
Create a list of questions
o about parts that you don't understand
o about parts where you question their solution/proof/methods/results

List comparisons of this paper to other related work with which you are
familiar.
o Copy out exact words only when the ideas are memorably phrased or surprisingly expressed-
  -when you might use them as actual quotations in your essay.
o Otherwise, compress ideas in your own words.
o Paraphrasing word by word is a waste of time.
o Choose the most important ideas and write them down as labels or headings. Then fill in with
  a few sub points that explain or exemplify.
o Save bother later by developing the habit of recording bibliographic information in a master
  list when you begin looking at each source (don't forget to note book and journal information
  on photocopies).
o Then you can quickly identify each note by the author's name and page number; when you
  refer to sources in the essay you can fill in details of publication easily from your master list.
o Try as far as possible to put notes on separate cards or sheets.
o This will let you label the topic of each note. Not only will that keep your note taking
  focused, but it will also allow for grouping and synthesizing of ideas later. It is especially
  satisfying to shuffle notes and see how the conjunctions create new ideas -- yours.
o Leave lots of space in your notes for comments of your own -- questions and reactions as you
  read, second thoughts and cross-references when you look back at what you've written. These
  comments can become a virtual first draft of your paper.

References
How to Read a Scientific Paper http://www.biochem.arizona.edu/classes/bioc568/papers.htm
Tips for Critically Reading a Scientific Paper
http://learning.berkeley.edu/es100/Paper_Critique.htm
An Introduction to Reading Scientific Papers
http://www.weighttrainersunited.com/scientificpapers.html

				
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