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Tips On Reading Scientific Literature and Writing Reports

Being a Life Science student, reading articles is one of those things you can't avoid. You want to be current with where the worlds research is heading. As students, we also don't have the time spend hours a reading papers. So how can you improve the efficiency at which you find, read and understand all the scientific literature?

My Guide to reading scientific articles

1. Always start with the most basic google search ( if you didn't know that already)

2. Search Engines:Wikepedia, Google Scholar and PubMed.

Wikepedia : Yes, this may seem crazy, but when you have absolutely no idea what you are looking for, wikipedia is a great start. The best thing is, the information is simple enough and the work is usually referenced. What I usually do is go through the references and open tabs to the papers important that were referenced. You can now go on and look for the full papers in google scholar/ pubmed.

Google Scholar : use it like google, type in the basic of your topic / essay. I like google scholar as it is easier to use compared to pubmed. It's also a great place to start if u decide to skip using wikipedia. It does have the options for advanced features where you can narrow down your search.

Pubmed : I like using pubmed as a source when i know more about what i am looking for and have grasped the topic. It makes it easier for me to use the advanced filters and narrow down the exact paper i am looking for.

If you are using pubmed, i advise to start with looking at review articles as they also help give a summary of what you are looking for. Recent review articles - within 5-10 years also help better understand the scope of research being done in that field. This is important when writing your discussion in essays or just for your own personal use.


Reading articles can be such a tedious task, especially just starting out. It is true that the more you read, the better you get. Don't worry if you struggle at first, you do get there in the end. I was lucky enough to host the stemminist account on twitter. Lovely scientist gave their tips on how to tackle articles.

Before you start reading, having a plan of what information you want to get from the paper is very useful :

Split into sections

1. purpose 2. Area 3. Background 4 . What did they do 5. What did they find 6. Conclusion

When starting of, you mainly read papers to get the basic information out of it but as complexity increases, so does your reason for reading the paper.

Ask yourself why you are reading the paper :

Background ?= intro

designing a similar experiment = method and looking for new ideas or

directions= last paragraph of the discussion

Extra: think about what you like/ dislike about the method. Utilise Ctrl F: it will save you so much time.

I spoke about time : How do you skim read a paper? and take notes without plaigirising


overview = read the first and last paragraph of the discussion and that helps determine the relevance of the paper

Printing papers and annotating

Make bullet points and reword everything to the best of your abilities - Try and stick to no more than two sheets of notes per paper you read.

Skim a few papers, read different bits at different times and put similar ideas together

KEEPING TRACK OF REFERENCES: the 21st century offers many handy alternatives

1. the most basic being using the favourites on your browser and sorting the papers into folders with appropriate headings

2.A pdf software where you take notes ( PAPERS- paid /Mendely - free/ refworks) add key words and it organises everything so the information is easier to retrieve

3. Use a big spread sheet of what you are trying to find out from the paper( Remember those sections i mentioned earlier in my post)

4. NVivo that endcodes sections of papers and you can find the information easily

Also it is worth looking at AICCSED method by raulpacheco

Bonus tip for students: Writing a piece of Work/ Essay : I am still learning but i can only pass on what i have currently learnt.

The best advise i have been given was to write like you are telling a story . Can you clearly identify a beginning, middle and an end. Are you getting lost? Explain all terminology and don’t expect the person reading your work to be a complete expert.

Ask someone that is not in your field to read your work. If they can't understand the basics then try again to further explain. They can also point out mistakes in your work better than you can .


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