Read the paper 3 times to extract information for your purpose

First Read
Second Read
Third Read

After three readings you will know what to look for in your research reading:
  • facts and theories that help answer your question
  • other people's opinions about whether specific answers are good ones

Read slowly

By slowing down, you will make more connections within the text.

Use the dictionary and other appropriate reference works

If there is a word in the text that is not clear or difficult to define in context: look it up. Every word is important, and if part of the text is thick with technical terms, it is doubly important to know how the author is using them.

Both and are good online dictionaries for this purpose. For health information and to look up health related terms try Medline Plus dictionary at the National Library of Medicine site

First read

• Abstract: for an overall picture of what the author is trying to communicate
• Introduction: to understand the background of the subject and the authors interests
• Discussion: to understand the findings of the study and their implications for the field
• References: for an idea of the sources of the background information

If the paper is well written, you should now know:

  • what problem the authors are addressing
  • why the problem is important
  • what the authors solution is
  • what their solution contributes to the area
  • how the authors demonstrate/prove that their solutions works and that it improves on other solutions in some way(s)

Second Read

Next read through the entire paper starting with the abstract again. Don't skip over figures, re-read parts that you don't understand. Write down questions you have as you go along.

Third Read

Finally, re-read the paper critically.

  • Did the authors do what they said they were going to do?
  • What are the important ideas? (just because an author says something is important doesn't mean it really is)
  • Do their results make sense?
  • Are their methods sound?
  • What assumptions are they making?
  • How does their work fit in with other similar work?
  • What improvements/extensions do they contribute?
last updated: August 29, 2005 Marti Lindsey