The 5 Step Reading Analysis

Reading science is not like reading other material, including textbooks.  First, this is primary literature -- what does this mean to you? 

Of Scientists and Scholarly Sources

• Scientists read scholarly, a.k.a. primary, sources.

• Scholary Sources are

• The write-up of original research

• Written by the researcher

• Found in peer reviewed journals 

• Feature high transparency of author, publication source, and sources used for the research

For you, the biggest difference between primary and secondary sources is likely how it feels to read them. This is called the “reading experience," and like all experiences, some are more fun than others. Secondary sources include lots more definitions of technical terms and more explanations of important concepts. This makes secondary sources great ways to learn about a subject that is new to you because the writer knows the audience includes mostly non-experts. It also makes secondary sources a lot more enjoyable to read. And it’s why so many people who love science read quality secondary sources such as Discovery Magazine, American Scientist, Scientific American, and Science News.

The reading experience is quite different for primary sources. In peer-reviewed publication, the writer assumes the audience is fellow experts, and usually provides far fewer definitions and explanations. This fact makes reading primary sources more difficult, and new readers to this literature sometimes feel intimidated or frustrated when tackling primary sources for the first time. First, please understand that it takes every practicing scientist years to become an expert researcher, reader, and writer – thus, it will take you time to be comfortable with the primary literature, too. On the other hand, this is the place where science is actually happening, and so it is very exciting to read here! The rest of this chapter is devoted to making your first adventures into the primary literature more fun, more productive, and more useful.

So, you need a strategy.  We recommend a two part process.  First, a "quick" read that will orient you to the main ideas and prepare your brain for in-depth reading.  Second, of course, is the in-depth reading which includes both understanding content and assessing relevance to your needs. (for another take on this procedure, see parts 2 & 3 of "Evaluating the Literature: eMedicine Emergency Treatment)

Read Quickly: The 5 Points Analysis

Step 1. Topic + Significance

  • a. Announces the area of scientific research (topic)
  • b. States why research area is important (significance) often in terms of practical, clinical, scientific, or global relevance
  • c. LOCATION – first paragraph of Introduction

Step 2. Research Question

  • a. States the actual question motivating the research
  • b. May be written as a question or statement
  • c. May include hypotheses (especially in quantitative research reports)
  • d. LOCATION – towards end of introduction, usually last paragraph; look for words such as "This study investigates" or "We investigated"

Step 3. Method

  • a. Explains the equipment, materials, and procedures used to investigate the Research Question -- you should be able to identify who/what was being experimented upon, materials or equipment needed, and exactly how investigation was performed (like a recipe)  -- often, an explanation of assessment methods is included as well (e.g., statistical test performed)
  • b. May have other words used in subheading along with or instead of the word “method”
  • c. LOCATION:. after Introduction, in own section using the word “Method”

Step 4. Results

  • a. Presents results that best answer the research question, usually according to statistical significance, from strongest to weakest; also includes figures (graphs, pictures, etc.) -- may be organized similary to steps in the method
  • b. LOCATION: in its own section, between Methods and Discussion, labeled using the word “Results”

Step 5. Conclusion/Discussion

  • a. Restates RQ and central Result in first paragraph
  • b. Discusses (compares and contrasts) results of this research with the results, models, or theories of other research
  • c. Points out any limitations or problems with research
  • d. Suggests what research should come next (implications for future research) or what should be done with the current research (applications of research)
  • e. LOCATION:  in its own section at end of paper, usually called “Discussion” (or "Conclusion", "Implication") as it includes both summary information and interpretation


Course Links

Student Resources

Attribution Info

  • Creative Commons License