How to (seriously) read a scientific paper

Elisabeth Pain, Science, Aug 10, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This is not a how-to article as the title suggests but rather a collection of dozens of short comments describing how various people - ranging from students to professors to editors - read scientific papers. There's a lot in common across the different accounts. They typically start with the title and abstract, jump to the conclusion, and look at the figures. From there the methodology varies a lot. I read scientific papers every day as a part of my job. My method is similar. I will focus more on methdology because it helps me weed out the trivial (eg., studies where n=6). I skim the literature view (which is almost always a list of cites in prose form, and rarely an actual summation). I focus on the discussion. The conclusion is less interesting than you might think; researchers often 'bury the lede' - the most important point may be something they observe in passing rather than in the statement of outcomes.

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