Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

Crack the Code: A Simple Guide to Reading Scientific Articles

6 minute read

Science articles and research papers might seem like a maze of complicated words and confusing graphs, especially when you’re new to them, but fear not! We're here to help you decode these treasure troves of knowledge and learn how to read a scientific article. Initially, it’s important not to approach a scientific article or scientific literature like a textbook, where you read without pause for reflection. 

It’s highly recommended that you highlight and jot down notes as you navigate the scientific research article. Taking notes while you read scientific papers keeps you on track and enhances comprehension. Now, let’s dive into the exciting world of reading scientific articles step by step as well as make it easier to decide if you are going to use scientific journals in your research. 

Do your own research through Polygence!

Polygence pairs you with an expert mentor in your area of passion. Together, you work to create a high quality research project that is uniquely your own.

1. Unveil the Mystery: Title & Abstract 

Imagine you're about to embark on an adventure. Start by reading the title and abstract of the scientific research paper – they're like your treasure map! The title gives you a sneak peek of the scientific paper, while the abstract sums up the whole journey in a few sentences. The abstract of the journal article is like the trailer for a movie, giving you an idea of what to expect without revealing all the details. 

When reading an abstract, focus on the main objective of the study, the key findings, and any major implications as well as limitations. Skimming articles for research also helps you determine if the article aligns with your interests or research, especially when dealing with multiple lengthy articles. 

2. Connect the Dots: Discussion or Conclusion 

Now, let’s dive into the deep waters of either the discussion or the conclusion section. If the article is about a topic you know, head straight to the discussion to find out what all the fuss is about. Scientists chat about their findings and what they mean for the world. It’s like getting to the end of a mystery novel and revealing the solution! 

If the topic is new to you, follow the path of the conclusion. Think of it as the last chapter of a fantastic story. Scientists sum up their journey, tell you what they learned, and suggest where the adventure might lead next. It’s your chance to grasp the big picture without delving into all 

the scientific jargon. Pay attention to any limitations the scientists mention; this shows their honesty and helps you understand the study’s scope. 

3. The Recipe of Discovery: Methods 

If you’re diving into a topic you’re familiar with, start with the methods section. Imagine this as your secret recipe for a scientific experiment. Scientists spill the beans on how they conducted their research – what tools they used, how they gathered data, and more. It’s like peeking into a magician’s hat to learn their tricks! Don’t worry if you don’t understand every technical term; the goal is to get a general idea of how the study was conducted. 

4. The Opening Act: Introduction 

But if the topic is new, begin with the introduction. This is like the opening act of a play. Scientists tell you what they’re exploring and why it matters. It’s your chance to understand the questions they’re trying to answer and why those questions are exciting. Pay attention to any prior research they reference, as this will help you understand the foundation of their study.

Tip: As you read the introduction, jot down key points, questions, and any connections you make with your existing knowledge. Seek definitions for pivotal concepts. If the study involves specialized terms, the introduction might provide definitions or explanations to ensure readers understand them. Maintain these on sticky notes or separate paper for reference, aiding your assimilation of the article’s contents as these words will often appear throughout the article. 

5. The Heart of the Journey: Results 

The results section is where the heart of the journey lies. Scientists unveil what they found, often using graphs, charts, or tables. These are like the clues in a treasure hunt – they show you the evidence behind the discoveries. Look for patterns, trends, and any significant differences. Remember, it’s okay to take your time and go back to the methods section if you need to clarify how the data was collected. Don’t worry if you’re not sure about everything – even scientists take time to piece it all together! 

A proven college admissions edge

Polygence alumni had a 90% admissions rate to R1 universities in 2023. Polygence provides high schoolers a personalized, flexible research experience proven to boost your admission odds. Get matched to a mentor now!"

6. Deciding to Use the Article 

After reading through these sections, you’ll have a better understanding of the study. Now, it’s time to decide whether the article is useful for your needs. Ask yourself if the research addresses your questions or supports your ideas. Consider whether the methods used are appropriate and if the conclusions are supported by the evidence presented. Remember, not all articles will be a perfect fit, and that’s okay. Each piece of the puzzle you encounter adds to your knowledge and critical thinking skills. 

7. Embrace the Adventure: Take Your Time 

Remember, you're not racing against time. Take your time to absorb the information. If you find unfamiliar words, don't worry. Use a dictionary or ask your teacher for help. Like any great adventure, understanding comes with practice. 

8. Join the Scientific Expedition: Ask Questions 

Are questions popping up? Don’t hesitate to ask! Talk to your teachers, classmates, or even online communities. Science is all about curiosity, and questions are your superpower. Or you can use those questions for your research – they might lead you to a new adventure! 

9. Verify the Sources: Check Citations 

Examine references to see if the authors are building upon previous work and how their study fits into the broader scientific context. 

10. Take Notes 

Summarize key points and your understanding of the article. Note any questions or areas that need further exploration. 

Next Steps with Polygence

Congratulations! You’ve just uncovered the secrets of reading scientific articles, one step at a time. So, dear explorers, arm yourself with curiosity and embark on the journey of reading scientific articles. Reading top neuroscience journals, medical journals, and scientific articles might feel like a journey into the unknown, but with the right approach, it becomes an exciting adventure. 

Start with the abstract to get a sense of the study’s purpose, then dive into the discussion or conclusion. Then uncover the methods or introduction depending on your familiarity with the topic. Explore the results and graphs like a treasure map. 

As you read more articles, you’ll become more skilled at deciphering their secrets and unlocking the wealth of knowledge they hold. From there, you can explore how to potentially publish and showcase your own research article. Happy reading, intrepid young scientists!