Pointers for students on reading scientific papers

1 minute read

I’m not in the classroom this semester, but when I teach science courses to upper-level undergraduates, I always find a high fraction of them need help finding scientific publications and using information in them. So this blog post by Jennifer Raff may be welcome to many teachers out there: “How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists”.

I want to help people become more scientifically literate, so I wrote this guide for how a layperson can approach reading and understanding a scientific research paper. Its appropriate for someone who has no background whatsoever in science or medicine, and based on the assumption that he or she is doing this for the purpose of getting a basic understanding of a paper and deciding whether or not its a reputable study.

The post discusses how to avoid the “selective” use of the scientific literature, emphasizes note-taking and taking the proper effort to understand jargon terms, and presents some skills necessary to judge whether a paper adequately supports its claims with evidence.

As I was reading, I reflected that many introductory courses spend a lot of time getting students familiar with jargon terms, but spend very little time teaching how to evaluate the credibility of scientific claims. Both are essential skills.