Reading a scientific article
Peer reviewed scientific articles usually contain a lot of information. The scientific writing used in these documents is unlike the kind of writing used for healthcare records, textbooks, novels, social media, instruction manuals, or news articles. Unlike most forms of writing, peer reviewed scientific literature isn’t necessarily designed to be read from beginning to end. There are many situations where other reading strategies can be more useful. And, if one knows what to look for, rational judgments about the quality, trustworthiness, and applicability of content can be made.
Because there is no standard method for reading a scientific article, one might ask – Is there an ideal or efficient method or reading strategy? The answer is: Probably, but it depends on why the article is being read.
In many circumstances, experienced and efficient readers of the scientific literature use different metaphorical road maps. The map is devised when readers understand where to look for specific information. Sometimes, reading from the middle first is best, while other times another strategy is most efficient.
Before reading the scientific literature, ask …
Why am I reading this article? What information do I seek? Answers to these questions can guide efficient reading, saving much time and energy which would otherwise be spent sifting through less relevant information. For example, if one is trying to figure out what an article is about, the abstract usually provides enough information. If you are trying to understand whether treatment X is a good choice for patients (population Y) with condition Z, then the best place to find that information is in the Methods and Results sections. If interested in how study results compare with similar studies, then the Discussion section is the place to look first.
In scholarly publishing, peer review is a process by which research articles are evaluated prior to publication by other experts in the same field to assess the accuracy and quality of the work. The peer review system exists to validate scholarly work and helps to improve the quality of published research.