|Here are ten tips to guide your reading
of the primary literature:
- Focus on methods and results. Try not to be influenced by the
way the study is presented, but rather focus your analysis on
the experimental design, techniques, and data.
- Be a skeptic. Ask yourself how strongly the authors' interpretations
and conclusions are supported by the evidence.
- Be fair. Scientific research is difficult, and scientists operate
under many constraints. Don't expect studies to be perfect.
- Read non-linearly. Exploit the format of research articles to
quickly access the information you need. Don't feel compelled
to read every line start to finish. Skim the paper to understand
its overall approach. Refer to previous sections as necessary.
- Consider the big picture. Assess where the study fits into the
cycle of science, and how it relates to previous research.
- Consult other sources. Writers of research articles assume their
audience has basic knowledge of the area. Consult secondary sources
to get the needed background.
- Take your time. Research articles condense entire studies into
a few printed pages. It probably took the authors years to conceive,
perform, and publish their work. Be patient and persistent when
- Accept uncertainty. Research articles deal with emerging knowledge
and controversial issues. Don't expect to find absolute answers
to every question. Each paper is a step in an ongoing process.
- Expect to be challenged. If you're not an expert in an area,
there might be aspects of a paper you can't understand fully.
That's OK, you can still learn from those parts of a paper that
you can comprehend.
- Relax and enjoy. Perhaps this is the hardest advice to follow,
especially when you're confronted with a complicated paper. But
try to approach an article like a puzzle. It's going to take time
and effort to make progress, but there's real satisfaction in
From: Gillen, C.M. Reading
primary literature: a practical guide to evaluating research articles
in biology. Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco. 44p., 2007.