How to Read a Scientific Article


  1. One scientific article authored by your mentor or recommended by your mentor
  2. Review article provided by Dr. Donaldson


Be prepared to review and discuss your article.

This is where you will spend the bulk of your time initially, just learning to read scientific articles. One goal for this session is to make it easier to read the papers that you will encounter in your lab and to understand the authorship process.

These articles tend to be densely-packed to give the most information in the most concise format. To unpack the paper, the infographic below gives a great summary on how to approach this type of text.



Starting from the top of the article – When reading paper, you will notice the first author listed. This person has either conceived the idea or has done the most research that is contained in the paper. The last author is typically the Principal Investigator under whom the project was completed.

When I read articles, I read the introduction/background to figure out the problem. Next I look at the figures and figure legends to see the data and make my own conclusions about the results. Last I read the discussion section to see if my own conclusions match those of the article and I get an overall summary of the project and any outstanding questions that the authors have.

Make sure to get the definitions of terms that you are unfamiliar with. Keeping a notebook with a definition of these terms will help with reading articles and understanding lab presentations. If a paper is too complex, you can get familiar with background by looking at a review. Reviews are articles that summarize the history of a theme, concept, or technique and highlight current uses. Reviews are often written in plain language and can be used to provide more background information.