How to Read Scientific Articles

This work, “How to Read a Scientific Article,” is a derivative of “Breaking it Down: Scientific Articles” by Karna Younger and Rebecca Orozco used under CC BY. “How to Read a Scientific Article” is licensed under CC BY. Scientific articles can be intimidating to read. In this video, you'll learn some tips for reading these articles efficiently.

This work, “How to Read a Scientific Article,” is a derivative of “Breaking it Down: Scientific Articles” by Karna Younger and Rebecca Orozco used under CC BY. “How to Read a Scientific Article” is licensed under CC BY.

Reading scientific articles can be challenging. They often look like a wall of intimidating data and scientific jargon. They’re written by scientists, for scientists, so the authors don’t necessarily spell everything out in a way that makes sense to the rest of us. So here are some tips to help make sense of them. 

First, you don’t have to read a scientific article from beginning to end. These articles are always split into sections and you can skip around the article to find the information you need. Let’s look at what some of these sections are. 

Scholarly or peer-reviewed articles begin with an abstract. Each journal has its own style for abstracts. An abstract may be bolded or italicized, or unlabeled. It summarizes the hypothesis, methodology, and key results. An abstract also relates the importance of the study to relevant scientific literature. 

Next comes the introduction which gives background and context to the study described in the article. It reviews recent, relevant, and seminal research in the field and it relates it back to the current study. The introduction will often conclude with the authors’ hypothesis or state what the study was investigating. 

The introduction is usually followed by the methods section. This is the densest part of the article because it explains techniques, standards, and protocols. It should also describe the study’s limitations and scope. The purpose of the methods sections is for the reader to validate and potentially replicate the results of the study. 

Next comes a section describing the results of the study. This section often contains tables, charts, and diagrams that can help you grasp the study’s findings 

One of the final sections of a scientific article is the discussion. This section is essential to understanding the article and its significance to the wider field so don’t skip it. This section provides context for the results of the study by comparing them with the results from other similar studies. This section should discuss how the results measure up to the authors’ hypothesis and should again discuss the study’s limitations. 

The last section is the conclusion which summarizes the article and gives important implications and areas for future research. This is a good place to find ideas for your own research. 

Remember, you don’t always need to read the whole article and you don’t need to read the sections in order. Always start with the abstract. If, after reading it, the article still seems relevant to your research, then move on to the introduction and the discussion. You can get away with skimming or even skipping the methods, results, and conclusions sections most of the time.


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