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Gerstein Science Information Centre

CSB201: Molecular Biology, Biotechnology and You

To help CSB201 students find resources for the poster project.

Reading a Scientific Article

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.

For a quick overview of the parts of a scholarly article, click on the link below to see an example of a scholarly article and its parts. We will look at the different parts more closely on the rest of this page.

How to Read a Scholarly Article


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 Abstract or Summary is a short description of experiments, results, and conclusions. It usually appears after the title.


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 context for the present findings.

Literature Review

The Literature Review section of an article is a summary or analysis of all the research the author read before doing his/her own research. This section may be part of the introduction or in a section called Background. It provides the background on who has done related research, what that research has or has not uncovered, and how the current research contributes to the conversation on the topic.

Materials and Methods

This section describes the techniques used to collect the data and any statistical procedures used to test the data. The Materials and Methods section is usually full of jargon and technical descriptions and 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 or findings are usually described in words; with the aid of tables containing data, statistical tests where appropriate, and figures and diagrams if necessary.


Research articles are full of data. The data should be complete and directly support the conclusions the authors draw about their research question.


The Discussion section 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.


The function of the Literature Cited or References 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.