How to Read a Scientific Paper, for Non-Scientists

So you have to read a scientific paper. Don’t panic! These great sources are here to help guide you through every step of the process.

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

As part of my efforts to include more science literacy-focused blog posts here on Read More Science, I’d like to share some guides to reading scientific papers. Being able to work your way through these difficult articles, which are essential to research and understanding cutting-edge developments in the scientific fields, are a big part of becoming science literate.

Reading scientific papers is a skill anyone with a some time on their hands and a little curiosity can develop. Start by reading this great article called The Non-Scientist’s Guide to Reading and Understanding a Scientific Paper.

In it, the author suggests “Reading [scientific] articles will help you make more informed decisions in the areas of life that concern you, and better understand and participate in the public debate about important scientific issues. Here are the basic steps: focus on the big picture the scientists are addressing; read the Abstract, Introduction, and Discussion, in that order; think critically about the conclusions the scientists make; conduct follow-up research.”

Another great source on how to read a scientific paper can be found on The Open Notebook, How to Read a Scientific Paper. This handy guide explains each part of a paper and how to understand it, as well as how to approach reading the entire piece without drowning in terms you don’t understand.

The author writes, “These tips and tricks will work whether you’re covering developmental biology or deep-space exploration. The key is to familiarize yourself with the framework in which scientists describe their discoveries, and to not let yourself get bogged down in detail as you’re trying to understand the overarching point of it all.”

If you’re just doing some research for a class or a short piece you’re writing, and you just want a simple, easy-to-grasp guide , the Northcentral University Library has a nice one called Reading a Scientific Article. Geared toward students or the layperson, it’s formatted to get you through the article and ask critical-thinking questions to ensure you understand the material.

What I like about the Northcentral University Library is that their guide has additional resources, such as a video on How to Read Scientific Literature. For those who enjoy listening and watching a tutorial, this is a great resource.

Are you ready to read some scientific papers now? I hope the next time you’re skimming the news and see an interesting headline about a development in science, you consider seeking out the original source and reading the paper yourself. It’s a great way to test your science literacy skills!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s