Things to consider when reading a scientific text

Swedish

To sit down and read a text may seem like a simple thing to do, but there is a difference between texts and texts – here are some tips on how to think when you’re reading a scientific text. 

Scientific texts have often the following structure IMR(A)D: Introduction, Method, Results (Analysis) and Discussion. But first in all scientific articles is the abstract. The abstract is a summary with the purpose to give you a quick indication on whether the article is of interest to you or not. It should contain some type of purpose for the study, how the study was done, what results were found and what conclusions could be drawn.

  • Then, the introduction follows, with two purposes: To create interest as well as to put the study into a general context by presenting previous research.
  • The method section describes which methods have been used to answer the questions. This section is important to read carefully so that you can determine the validity, that is how reasonable and correct the conclusions are.
  • Results present what the research data shows and it can be visualised with figures and tables.
  • In the ending discussion section the current study is related back to previous research and the current results are put in context. In the discussion, you should also find the conclusions made from the study.

When reading a text try to find the main points in the text. Perhaps you can also find what is surprising, unexpected or different from previous research or if there is something that is rarely focused on other research.

When you read a scientific text, you can consider and answer the following questions:

  • What is the problem that this text is trying to answer? Why is this question important to answer?
  • Is the used method 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 there unanswered questions or are the results open for new questions?

You can also draw inferences, like in this example:

“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 its 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 much easier later on. One way to do this is to create a template that you fill in for each text you are reading. Then your reading will be systematically documented and it may also help you in reading. The Library has also created a Google Drive document that you can download and use. You can download the template in a couple of different formats (Choose File and the Download as…).

Text: Pieta Eklund & Katharina Nordling
Photo: Mostphotos

[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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