How to read a research article?

Before starting to read a research article, decide what is the purpose for your read. Is it because you are interested in understanding a particular subject in-depth? or because you wanted to pursue the project in that field?

If you want an answer to a particular question, just select any recent review article and understand the conclusions well. If you want for literature search, so that you can pursue your future projects in that field, then follow the below steps.

Deciding a journal:

Make a list of journals in your subject with impact factors and whether they are PubMed indexed. Due to the rampant increase in the numbers of predatory journals, we need to be very cautious about the source. Do not read or trust any information or research article from predatory journals.

Start with review articles: 

For a person who is a newbie to research, I would suggest reading review articles, because they are the compilation summaries of multiple articles. Also, they contain very less mathematical numbers. Hence it will be easy for the brain to comprehend it as a story. Even if you are not a newbie, sometimes if you feel there’s any difficult concept, going back and searching for a review article is always a good option.

Highlighting/Making notes: 

Start highlighting with a marker (either on-screen or paper). Because, once you start reading a complex article, authors use multiple analogies, explanations to make complex concepts into simple concepts. But the important idea of the project lies mainly in one sentence that explains the purpose and another sentence that explains the methodology. If you do not underline/highlight there are high chances that you forget the main purpose before engrossing completely into the methodology. Additionally,  If you are patient enough, you can even make notes of the articles.

Non-understandable bits prevent us from following the main ideas: 

A variety of specialists are needed to pursue a single subject of research. For example, if you are studying about one part of the eye cornea, you might require engineers to build machines to image cornea, you might require doctors to assess the images, you might require data analysts to understand how to convert these images into valuable information. Once all these people collaborate and publish an article, it is not so easy for a doctor or an engineer to completely understand all three components of the research.

read research article

Hence it is okay to ignore non-understandable bits of the paper and concentrate on information that is of your interest. Any published article is a result of years of work in that particular field by a group of scientists. It is natural, of it takes multiple reads to understand in detail. Hence, take it easy on yourself and give time for multiple reads.

Contact the authors:

Once you really think there is something in the paper that you especially need to understand to do further research, you can always ask the author. You will be doing them a favour by letting them know that it’s complex for a person like you. They also feel happy to know someone is really interested in learning their area of interest. 

The authors tend to assume significant background knowledge from readers. It is not wrong on their part since, if a person is really interested in that topic, they will definitely learn all the basics and then come to research articles.  Also, since every journal has a word limit, authors have to explain their research concisely. Hence understanding an article depends on how much interest the reader has to learn that particle subject.

Our recent article on Best ways to keep you updated with eye and vision research (part 2)-Research alerts

Order of a research article:

The simplest way to understand an article is to read in the order it is presented by the journal. Most of the journals follow similar templates. Skimming the abstract should get you clear whether the article is of any use to your area of interest. Once you feel it is related, you start reading the introduction, methodology, results, discussion and conclusion. Sometimes if you don’t understand even the purpose of the article, it is always wise to start with a discussion. Authors use simple words in discussion with fewer numerical values and also extrapolate the specific results of the project into the practical applications and implications. Also, looking at the graphs and images gives a simple idea of the main results.

All the information above is from personal experience and from the below references. Open to any other simples ways of reading a research article. Comment your suggestions below.

References: