Reading and understanding research papers is an ability that every single researcher and scientist has had to acquire during his research or before that. You can learn it too, but like any accomplishment it takes patience and more and more practice. Reading a single research material may take you a very long time at first, but be enduring with yourself. The activity will go much quicker as you gain experience.

Read Critically: Reading a research paper must be a critical activity. You should not expect that the authors are always right. Critical reading pertain asking suitable questions. If the authors endeavor to resolve a problem, are they solving the right problem? Are there easy solutions the authors do not look to have well thought out? What are the boundaries of the solution considering limitations the authors might unnoticed?

Are the assumptions the authors make sensible? Is the logic of the paper crystal clear and justifiable, given the assumptions, or is there a weakness in the reasoning? If the writer present data, did they collect the right data to support their argument, and did they seem to gather it in the correct way? Did they explain the data in a reasonable manner? Would other data be more powerful?

Reading a paper critically is effortless, in that it is ever easier to tear something downcast than to build it up. Reading creatively involves harder, more positive thinking.

What are the good opinions in this paper? Do these ideas have other applications or broaden that the authors might not have thought of? Can they be generalized further? Are there possible amendment that might make important applicable differences? If you were going to start doing research from this paper, what would be the next thing you would do?

Make notes as you read the paper:

Several people cover the margins of their copies of papers with notes. Use whatever style you prefer. If you have questions or criticisms, pen them down so you do not forget them. Underline key points the authors make. Mark the data that is most essential or that seem questionable. Such endeavor help the first time you read a paper and pay big dividends when you have to re-read a paper after various months.

After the first read-through, try to summarize the paper in one or two sentences. Almost all good research papers try to give an answer of a particular question. Sometimes the question is a natural one that people specifically set out to answer; sometimes a good idea just ends up answering a worthy question. If you can compactly describe a paper, you have probably acknowledged the question the authors started with and the answer they stipulate. Once you have centralized on the main idea, you can go back and try to outline the paper to gain insight into more specific details. Indeed, if summarizing the paper in one or two sentences is easy, go back and try to intensify your outline by summarizing the three or four most important subpoints of the main idea. If possible, compare the paper to other works.

Summarizing the paper is one way to try to find out the scientific contribution of a paper. But to really gauge the scientific virtue, you must compare the paper to other works in the field. Are the ideas really novel, or have they appeared before?

It is worth acknowledgment that scientific contributions can take on many forms. Some papers offer new ideas; others employ ideas, and show how they work; others bring former ideas together and unite them under a novel framework. Knowing other work in the area can assist you to find out which kind of contribution a paper is actually making.

Some points to review a paper:

Your one page review should consider the following:

  • a one or two sentence summary of the paper.
  • a deeper, more extensive outline of the main points of the paper, including for example assumptions made, arguments presented, data analyzed, and conclusions drawn.
  • any limitations or extensions you see for the ideas in the paper.
  • your opinion of the paper; primarily, the quality of the ideas and its potential impact.

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