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*Biology: How to Read a Scientific Paper

Anatomy of a Research Article

Author information includes name, professional qualifications, and institutional affiliations.  May also include author contact information.


A brief, comprehensive summary of the article, written by the author(s) of the article.

Introduces the problem, tells you why it’s important, and outlines the background, purpose, and hypotheses the authors are trying to test.

Describes in details how the research was conducted, and may be subdivided into subsections describing Materials, Apparatus, Subjects, Design, and Procedures.

Summarizes the data and describes how it was analyzed. It should be sufficiently detailed to justify the conclusions. Often includes graphs, charts or tables as a visual representation of the data.

The authors explain how the data fits their original hypothesis, state their conclusions (possibly in an additional section labeled "Conclusions"), and look at the theoretical and practical implications of their research. The authors may also note potential for further research.

List of sources used by the author(s) in the form of citations & a great place to find additional resources for your project/paper.

Suggested Reading Order

  1. Abstract - Questions to consider while reading this section: What research was done? What were the results? Is this relevant to your research?
  2. Discussion/Conclusions - Questions to consider while reading the section: What conclusions do the authors draw from their research? Do you agree with their logic? Are these results useful to you? It can also be helpful at this time to look at any figures or tables in the article.
  3. Introduction - If the article still looks useful, read the introduction to get background information on the article.  Questions to consider while reading this section: Why did they do this experiment? What is the importance of the research? Many of the references will be listed in the introduction. You may want to find these papers to gain a firmer understanding of the research.
  4. Results - Now you are ready to see the data they collected. Take a closer look at any figures and tables. Make sure you understand what units are being used. Do the results make sense?
  5. Methods/Materials - This section can help you fully understand how they performed the experiment/research. Does their method make sense to you? Do you understand why they did what they did? Do you think you could replicate the research based on what they report?

Take notes while you read and use a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words or phrases.

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