How to Effectively and Efficiently Read a Scientific Article


Carrie Weber

Columbia Preparatory School, Manhattan


Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2007





The Plan:

At least three or four class periods should be allotted to introduce the first article. A second article may also be reviewed as a class but the necessary time would be significantly shorter. Subsequent articles should be chosen by the students based on their area of interest and questions assigned to be worked on outside of class.

DAY 1:   brainstorming, reading, introduction to format

DAY 2:   technique for reading, vocabulary discussion

DAY 3:   review of vocabulary, comprehension questions

DAY 4:   review of comprehension questions, reflection


Begin by brainstorming. . .

·         Ask each student to identify one area of cutting edge science or technology that they deem interesting purely for the sake of being interesting

·         Allow each student the time to share their area of interest and explain how they become interested and where they were exposed to the topic

·         Follow up with time for them to discuss where they think they might go to research and expand their knowledge of the subject


Present an article. . .

·         Give each student a copy of a relatively short and moderately challenging scientific article and ask them to take some time to carefully read the text

      [they will likely be thoroughly horrified and totally overwhelmed]

·         Ask them to tell you what they learned from the article

      [there will undoubtedly be more confusion – this is what you want!]

·         Share your own experience and challenges faced reading journals

·         Ask them what they might find helpful to better understand the article and make sense of the challenging scientific concepts


Introduce the format of a scientific article. . .

EXPLAIN THE BASIC PARTS OF A FORMAL SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE    Not all scientific articles will follow this regimented format – however, even articles in readily available periodicals will generally follow the same structure

ABSTRACT      brief background of the topic and concise summary of the experiment & results, and it’s significance in the field

INTRO              presents background information relative to the topic that will be necessary to understand the significance of the experiment

METHODS       describes the materials and procedures followed to carry out the experiment (often condensed and may reference previous work)

RESULTS         presents the findings from the experiment (often combined with the discussion section)

DISCUSSION   interpretation of the data – data is analyzed to reveal what the author(s) believe the data shows (often shows the relationship to the broader field)

REFERENCES  reveals the necessary citations alluded to in the text for further review


Introduce a technique for reading scientific articles. . .


(obviously they already did this when they were originally given the paper)



·         Project (if possible) the article and slowly read through the entire article while highlighting all new terminology and unclear statements

·         Break the vocabulary into appropriate categories

                (e.g. scientific terminology, techniques, equipment, etc.)

·         Assign each student a few vocabulary words for homework

·         Review the student’s definitions and fill in any gaps – attempt to put the terminology into context (this could potentially take the entire class period)



Ask the students to answer the following questions after a quick second skim of the article –  for the first article (or two) it would be appropriate to review these questions as a class to ensure that each student was able to pick up on the necessary information – subsequent article assignments can simply be collected

1.   What is the overall purpose of the research?

2.   How does the research fit into the field? (i.e. Is there a controversy? A new technique? A new material or finding?)

3.   What was the hypothesis?

4.   How was the hypothesis be tested? What were the main protocols?

5.   What were the main conclusions drawn?

6.   What data was presented that led to those conclusions?

7.   What can you determine about the quality of the evidence?

8.   Why are the conclusions important to the field?

9.   What (if any) further research will be conducted?



·         Foster a discussion in which the students consider what basic information would have been helpful to better understand the article

·         Encourage the students to consider other ideas that may not have been explored in the article – ask if there are other factors that could have influenced the results or if there are other methods they might have explored to reach the same conclusion

·         Allow time for the students to contemplate their own ideas for further research – ask them if they are motivated to pursue further literature review of their own as a result of the information and topics gleaned from the article




Relevant Science Standards:


Teaching Standard B       guide and facilitate learning – interact with students, support inquiries, orchestrate discussion, encourage participation and curiosity

Teaching Standard D      design/manage a learning environment to provide time and resources for learning science – prolonged investigations & use of outside resources

Teaching Standard E       develop a community of science learners that reflects the rigor of scientific inquiry – facilitate ongoing discussions regarding scientific discourse

Content Standard A        scientific inquiry

Content Standard E         science & technology / technological design

Content Standard F         science in personal & social perspectives

Content Standard G        history and nature of science

Program Standard B       curriculum interesting to student’s lives

Program Standard D       appropriate resources, time and materials