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Reading & Writing

How to read research papers

How to read research papers

Reading a paper efficiently and critically is an important skill. Read regularly and often: this will help you to stay abreast of new discoveries, generate new ideas and improve your paper-writing skills.

Decide a strategy to ensure you read regularly e.g. set alerts in PubMed or subscribe to journals.

When reading a paper:

Do not multitask: set yourself space and time, free from clutter or distractions, to read.

Decide which papers to read: screen based on title and abstract.

Ask yourself why you’re reading the paper. Read with purpose.

Decide how in depth you need to read: is the abstract sufficient or do need to read the whole paper?

Structure your reading e.g.:

  • read the abstract
  • skim/skip the introduction/methods (if you are familiar with them)
  • look at all the figures & figure legends
  • read the discussion

Read critically:

  • what did the paper set out to do and was it achieved?
  • do you agree with the methods used?
  • do you agree with the conclusions?
  • what were the limitations of the paper? could you address them?
  • how does the paper relate to your work?

Make notes e.g. in a Word/Excel document:

  • use a reference manager to record the author/title
  • write key details in your own words (e.g. methods, main results, implications for your work)
  • distinguish your own ideas from those of the authors
  • save relevant images as a PowerPoint so that you could easily include them in a presentation
  • categorise papers according to their relevance to you (e.g. will you reference their method, their results etc).

Check the relevant references which the paper cites.

Check papers which have cited the paper.

Discuss interesting findings with peers/your supervisor e.g. at a journal club.

You and your supervisor may consider contacting the authors of the paper e.g. to request raw data/request to collaborate.