Purpose: This exercise introduces students to the parts of a typical scientific research article and a method for reading such articles.
Introduction: Students who are unfamiliar with scientific literature will often attempt to read articles straight through, the way they read textbooks or popular articles. This can be frustrating and unproductive.
Materials: For a class of ~24 students, use three research articles. Photocopy these sections—introduction, materials & methods, data/results, and conclusion—masking off text so that content from other article sections isn’t visible.
Methods: Have students work in pairs. Give each pair a section of an article and an article-notes form (Purugganan and Hewitt, 2004). Let them have 5-10 minutes to skim their sections and answer as many questions as they can on the form. Now have all students who have sections of each article gather together and report on what they think the article is about. Then have each group report out to the class about this experience. Generally, students who had the conclusions sections will have the best idea of what the article is about, and students who had the materials/methods sections will know the least.
Discussion: Have students read the abstracts of their papers, to see what they’re about. Then tell students to
- read the abstract to determine whether the article is a keeper
- read the conclusions—what did the researchers find?
- read the introduction—why did the researchers do this study
- read the results—show me the data!
- read the methods—how can I repeat this study?
Show the Purdue video “How To Read Scientific Papers” to reinforce.
Show students how to find subject dictionaries and encyclopedias to refer to while reading scientific articles—
- Gale Virtual Reference Library > apoptosis
- Library Catalog: AKW <dictionar* biolog* AND MT ebook; apoptosis>
Purdue University Libraries, n.d. [Fosmire, Michael?] How to read scientific papers. Flash tutorial.
Purugganan, Mary and Jan Hewitt, 2004. “How to Read a Scientific Article.”