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Overview: How Scientists Read
Lesson 1:
How Scientists

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Quiz Yourself

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Reading a scientific paper can be a daunting task. The structure of scientific papers is very different than other forms of writing, and the content of scientific papers can be complex. In our first step towards becoming expert readers of the scientific literature, we will explore two questions:

  • How do expert readers approach a scientific paper?
  • What is the structure of the scientific paper?
  • How do expert readers approach a scientific paper?

    Expert readers of scientific literature approach a paper with a critical mindset. This means that they do not automatically accept an author's conclusions. Rather, experienced readers examine whether an experiment and its data and analysis support the claims of the author. Readers are persuaded by the data and its analysis, not by an author's writing.

    Additionally, readers of scientific literature often read with a very specific purpose. They may not read the entire paper. Instead, they focus on sections of the paper that will answer their exact questions. Occasionally, scientists will skim many papers with no definite question in mind. Rarely, however, will scientists read an entire paper from start to finish unless it is of particular importance.

    Questions an expert reader will ask when reading a scientific paper:

    Example - Why read a scientific paper?

    • I'm having trouble getting my experiments to work, and I think I might have the wrong concentration of NaCl in my solutions. I better check to see what other investigators have used.
    • Those folks at Your State University have been working on the same question as me. I wonder whether their work supports or contradicts mine?
    • I can't believe those folks at Your State University are claiming their results contradict my work. I'm going to scrutinize their data and analysis to see if they've made any mistakes.
    • That work sounds interesting, I wonder if I might be able to incorporate any of the ideas or approaches into my own work.
    • That Albert Einstein is a pretty bright guy, it's probably a good idea if I keep up with his work.
    • I'm trying to stay current with my field, I wonder what new work is out there.

    When initially analyzing a paper, you may not have a specific question in mind, but you should try to develop questions as you continue to read.

    To read scientific papers effectively, it is important to understand the individual sections of a scientific paper. This topic is explored in the next page and throughout this tutorial.

    Click here to continue.