How to read a primary research paper


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How to read a primary research paper

  1. 1. How to Reada Primary Research PaperElizabeth WallaceLiaison Librarian forEarth & Atmospheric Sciences<br />
  2. 2. the scholarly record<br />this is the published record of scientific research<br />most of what is commonly accepted to be scientific <br />fact is based on published, peer-reviewed scholarly research<br />and more specifically, primary research<br />primary research is original, empirical research, based on first-handobservation or experiment<br />the peer review process involves having well-qualified individuals in aparticular field of research review a paper prior to its publicationto ensure that the research meets the standards of quality, accuracyand academic integrity established within that field<br />
  3. 3. primary research papers<br />primary research articles are published in academic researchjournals (from commercial publishers, professional societies, academic institutions, etc.)<br />in the natural, physical, and the social sciences, primary researchis presented in the same basic format, covering the key steps in“the scientific method”:<br />1) why we did it<br />2) how we did it<br />3) what we found out<br />4) what we think it means<br />this makes it easy for any reader to follow and understand, and to to quickly locate a particular element of the research<br />
  4. 4. Hydrobiologia (2009) 621:191-205<br />this is a typical primaryresearch article froma peer-reviewed journalpublished by Springer,one of the largestcommercial publishersof scholarly journals<br />you’re rarely going to be lucky enough to comeacross an article thatstates right up front thatit’s a primary researchpaper <br />
  5. 5. title<br />the title of the articledescribes, in as few wordsas possible, exactly whatthe paper is about<br />but it is not so technicalthat only specialists willunderstand it<br />if you find a reference toa paper that has a funnytitle, or one with aninteresting play on words,it’s likely not a researcharticle<br />
  6. 6. author<br />research articles will often have multiple authors<br />the first author is generally the lead researcher andthe person who actually wrote the paper<br />additional authors willhave made a significantcontribution to somepart of the research<br />
  7. 7. author affiliation<br />research collaborationoften takes place between scientistsat different institutions<br />all institutionalaffiliations will be listed<br />
  8. 8. abstract<br />a good abstractsummarizes the whole<br />paper, including theresults<br />reading the abstractcan save you a lot of timewhen you’re searchingthe literature<br />
  9. 9. keywords<br />keywords in the paperare usually assigned bythe author<br />these will be used toindex the article inliterature databases<br />
  10. 10. introduction<br />the introduction is where<br />the authors put their <br />research into context<br />it’s where they make<br />a case for why they’re<br />doing it and why it’s<br />important<br />it provides a brief<br />overview of priorrelated research<br />
  11. 11. introduction<br />it’s where the authorsidentify gaps in knowledgethat they hope to fill in with their own research<br />most of the referencesat the end of the paper come from this section<br />
  12. 12. introduction<br />the introduction is alsothe section where theauthors state veryexplicitly what it is thatthey are attempting toprove or examine in this<br />study<br />
  13. 13. site description<br />in studies that involve field work, the authorsmay provide an additionalsection that describes thesite where the researchtook place<br />
  14. 14. site description<br />this section will usuallyinclude maps, and adescription of the physical features of thelocation<br />
  15. 15. methods<br />the methods section is where the authors explain exactly how they carried out their research<br />this section provides adetailed, step-by-stepexplanation of all of themethods employed<br />
  16. 16. methods<br />there should be enough<br />information provided that<br />another scientist could<br />theoretically replicatethe research and achievethe same results<br />the methods may be<br />presented in multiple<br />sections<br />
  17. 17. results<br />the results section<br />summarizes the main<br />findings of the study<br />
  18. 18. results<br />this section is used only<br />to present the results,<br />not to discuss them<br />the results may be<br />presented in multiple<br />sections<br />
  19. 19. results<br />graphs, tables, etc. are<br />often used to present andsummarize data<br />it’s not necessary to<br />include all of the raw data<br />that has been collected <br />
  20. 20. discussion<br />the discussion section<br />is where the authors talk <br />about the implications of<br />their results<br />do the results support<br />the authors’ original <br />hypotheses?<br />are there different waysto interpret the results?<br />what do the results <br />suggest in terms of<br />future research?<br />
  21. 21. discussion<br />as with the methods andresults, the discussion may <br />be divided into sectionsto cover different aspectsof the study<br />
  22. 22. discussion<br />
  23. 23. summary<br />a summary is notalways included, butsome authors like to<br />provide this if the studyhas many components<br />
  24. 24. acknowledgements<br />this is an optional section<br />where authors can thank<br />those who’ve provided<br />financial support or help<br />with the research or the<br />manuscript<br />
  25. 25. references<br />the references can <br />sometimes end up being <br />the most valuable thing <br />you find in the paper<br />
  26. 26. references<br />no matter how goodyour own research is, there are almost always<br />things listed in thereferences that you didn’t<br />find yourself (or didn’teven think to look for)<br />
  27. 27. other types of scholarly journals<br />letters journal- another type of primary research journal - rapid publication of important research - short articles (2-3 pages) - often based interim work or negative results<br />methods/applications journal<br />- articles describing new research techniques or methodologies <br />
  28. 28. other types of scholarly journals<br />review journals - not primary research - articles that analyze and distill current trends in a specific area of research - very important in providing “the big picture” - can be very long (50 to 60 pages)<br />Science and Nature<br /> - very important research journals, but they include more than just research - both publish different types of research articles (primary research, reviews, letters, etc.) - also include news, opinion papers, book reviews etc. <br />
  29. 29. other types of scholarly literature<br />scholarly literature is not found only in journals, but it isalways based upon some level of peer review:- theses and dissertations (always) - conference papers (sometimes) - books (sometimes)<br />