Once you have sufficient background knowledge in a given field of study, reading research is important. Knowledge is continuously growing, and staying on top of the research can help you develop a deeper and up-to-date understanding. However, reading research is quite different from reading a news article or a novel. It is a skill that can be learned, and this skill will serve as a lifelong tool to protect you from BS (we’ll say that stands for bad science).

You can take entire college courses on how to read, interpret, and design research. I’m not smart enough to condense that much information into a single article, and I still have plenty of room to sharpen my own skills. Nonetheless, this article aims to walk you through the various sections of a peer-reviewed research paper, and provide a simple list of questions to ask yourself as you read each section. If you ask these questions as you work through a paper, they will assist you in interpreting what you read.

 

The sections

There is no “uniform” format for research journals. Some may omit certain sections, add extra sections, or combine sections. Nonetheless, we’ll assume a fairly common format for the purposes of this article, and take it section-by-section.

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