To read scientific texts


We have previously written a number of blog posts about how to find scientific articles, how to avoid plagiarism and how to cite correctly but nothing about how to read the texts that you find. This is also a competence in its own right and it is needed to get something out of the texts.

Scientific texts have often the following structure IMR(A)D, introduction, method, results (analysis), discussion, In this blog post you will get a couple of tips on how to read and better understand them.

Abstract has the purpose of giving you a quick indication whether the article is of interest to you or not. It should contain an aim or purpose for the study, how it is done, which results ar presented and which are the conclutions. The introduction has two purposes: create interest and also to set the stydy in a general and field specific context though presenting previous research. Method describes which methods are used to answer the questions. It is important to read this part carefully to be able to discuss the validity of the results. Results present what the research data shows and it can be visualised with figures and tables. Discussion contains results set in a context by using the previous research. Discussion aims also to answer the questions which the study aimed to answer.

When you are reading a text, try to find the main points of the text. Maybe you can find what is suprising, unexpected, in contrast of previous results or what is rarely addressed.

When you are reading a scientific text you can think of the following questions:

  • What is the problem this text is trying to answer? Why is it important to answer?
  • Is the used metod the best to answer the questions or is there a better method?
  • What are the specific results? Can I summarize them in a couple of sentences?
  • Are the results supported by the research data?
  • Are there other ways to interpret the research data which the authors didn’t address?
  • In which way are the results unique/new/unusual/ or supporting compared to other related research in the area?
  • How can the results be related to what I am interested in? To other texts I’ve read?
  • Are there some specific applications presented in the text? Which future experiments could be done? Are the unanswered questions or does the results open for new questions?

You can also draw inferences. E.g. “Rett Syndrome is a childhood neurodevelopmental disorder and one of the most common causes of mental retardation in females with an incidence of 1 in 10000-15000.”[1] Comment: Hmmm…can it be related to a gene on the X-chromosome since it one of the most common causes in females… How common is that?

You should also take notes while reading. The best case scenario is that you take notes electronically because you probably will find a specific note easier later. You can make your own template or you can use the one we have created for you to use while taking notes (Word 2010). You can download it to your own computer. We have also created a Google Drive document. You can download the template in a couple of different formats (file-> download as).

Pieta Eklund

[1] Ballestar, E., Yusufzai, T.M., & Wolffe, A.P. (2000) Effects of Rett Syndrome Mutations of the Methyl-CpG Binding Domain of the Transcriptional Repressor MeCP2
on Selectivity for Association with Methylated DNA. Biochemistry, 31, 7100-7106

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