Most scientific journals format their articles in a standard way; breaking them into clearly defined and labelled sub-sections. Once you have learned what sections contain what information, you can very quickly navigate yourself through any article.
If you are looking for a specific kind of information, you do not need to read the whole article! Think about which section might have the information that you need, and skip to that section. The Introduction and Discussion sections are good places to look for general information and an overview of the important issues.
The Abstract or Summary is a short description of experiments, results, and conclusions. It usually appears after the title or at the end of the article.
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The title of a scientific article clearly indicates the important content of the article to the reader. It must inform and perhaps entice the reader. The title should contain key words which alert the reader to what is in the article. Often in biology, the title will include the scientific name of the organism under study (e.g., “Random genetic drift in a population of Drosophila melanogaster”).
The Introduction states the objectives of the study. It is particularly beneficial to the non-specialist reader since it also reviews previous work in the field and provides the context for the present findings.
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This section describes in some detail the techniques used to collect the data and any statistical procedures used to test the data. The Methods section is usually full of jargon and technical description and so it can be the most difficult section to read for non-specialists. Detailed methods are necessary however for two reasons: scientists may wish to repeat exactly the experiments or observations to test the findings, and the validity of the results partly depends on the techniques and types of analyses used.
This section is typically a very technical presentation of the results of the experiments or observations conducted by the authors. The results are usually described in words; with the aid of tables containing data, statistical tests where appropriate, and figures and diagrams if necessary.
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The Discussion is where the authors interpret and defend their findings in light of previous work in the area. Here the authors must convince the reader of the validity and importance of their findings.
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The function of Literature Cited section is to assist the reader in locating the material referenced by the author, a process that permits an orderly growth of knowledge through continued testing and reassessment.
Journals use different formats for citing sources both within the text and in the Literature Cited section at the end of the article. In BIO120 we use the Council of Science Editors (CSE) style (as shown in the Citing Sources page).
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