Not all science or research is created equal. Some research is likely to hold more weight than other research. Researchers and academics often recognize quality research readily, while others — even other professionals such as doctors and clinicians — may struggle with understanding the value of any given journal article.
The intent of this article is to provide some basic tips on reading research reports. I will assume you already have at a least a basic understanding of different methods and statistical procedures used in analyzing research data. (In order to maximize the benefits of reading a research report it is important to have at least a basic understanding of research methods and statistics.)
1. Consider where the report is published.
Most of the research you are reading should come from peer-reviewed scientific journals. Of course, there is useful information that can be found in other locations, but I would try to focus most of my reading on reports published by peer-reviewed journals.
2. Why am I reading this report?
Ask yourself, what is my purpose for reading this report? It is important to read articles that are relevant to your research interests. There are many articles that may be published in your general area of interest. However, you will find that many of these articles do not pertain to your specific interest. Again, ask yourself why am I reading this? Can I gain knowledge that will assist me in further in understanding my research interests?
3. Read abstracts.
The abstract provides a basic overview of the paper. The abstract is usually less than 200 words and provides basic information from the paper’s major sections — introduction, methods, results and discussion. At this point you will probably have a good idea of whether you want to read the entire paper.
4. Read headings and briefly overview other sections.
If you have read the abstract and it has piqued your interest, then go ahead and briefly look at the various headings. The point is to perform a moderate overview of the entire paper.
5. Focus on relevant sections.
Once you have looked over the paper, you should have a general idea of the specific areas that are relevant. Sometimes the entire paper is relevant. As you focus on the areas that interest you, take notes, highlight and notice references that may lead to further reading. It is important that you highlight these references as you read the paper. You probably won’t remember the references by the time you have completed reading. If you are not able to highlight write the references on a piece of paper.
6. Look at references.
Look at the highlighted references. When looking at the references repeat the same process as mentioned above.
If this seems to you like an arduous task you are right. A thorough examination of the research is painstaking. However, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding, and knowledge in your area of interest, laborious activity is essential.