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These are some quick notes about how to read an academic paper.
The material is collected from the sources referenced here


It's good to know how a paper is structure before hand. Here we present the main parts:


The abstract summarizes

  • area of interest

  • methodology

  • principal results of the work

If you are sure you are going to read the paper through, it certainly is unnecessary.



It’s main goal is to present the background. Key points that is should include:

  • the planning of the research project

  • the state of knowledge in the relevant area

  • references to work already published

  • why the data and work described in the paper was necessary

  • clearly states the hypotheses being tested in the paper

  • (possibly) describes why the chosen research method is appropriate

  • (possibly) provides a brief description of the major answers to questions posed by the study




Description of how the research was carried out (usually compressed information).
Can be more elaborate if it’s a new/weird approach.


  • summary and analysis of the data

  • usually simple presentation and no discussion

  • Sometimes charts, graphs, and tables will be included here, if they make presentation of the data clearer



  • draw conclusions from the work described

  • explain what they think the data show

  • acknowledge limitations of the data

  • show how findings contribute to knowledge

  • correct errors of previous work

  • describe how the Methods and Results answer the questions set forth in the introduction

How to Read

  1. First get the gist

    1. Read Abstract (if you are sure you want to read it skip)

    2. Read introduction and conclusion/discussion

  2. Read through (diagonally) the main body and figures. But don’t get stack! Try to get the flow

  3. Go back and read it through

  4. Go back and read again while keeping notes

  5. Question what you read!


While reading you should

  • think about the Big question (what the whole field is about)

  • think about the "small" question, what they set out to answer in this paper (and where it differs from the rest)

  • identify the approach/method

  • when reading the “Method Section” try to draw a diagram

  • when reading the “Results”, be skeptical (do they include error bars, sample size, where they reluctant to believe it)

  • think if the methods and the results answer the small question

  • if you are interesting in the field… Read what other say about it!

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