It seems like every day another 'groundbreaking' scientific study is reported in the news - but sometimes it can be really hard to:
Some questions to ask yourself the next time you see a clickbait headline debating the existence of climate change, a bestselling wellness book by a celebrity, or an ad for a new wonder diet pill:
For more help with separating scientific fact from myths, check out:
See also: How to I spot fake news?
Scientific journal articles can be harder to read and fully understand. One thing that will help is to understand how they are structured, and what kinds of information can be found in each type of section.
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.
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:
Check to see if the article you're interested also has this version to look at too.
Here is one approach to reading a scholarly article:
1. Read the abstract:
An abstract is a summary of the article, and will give you an idea of what the article is about and how it will be written. If there are lots of complicated subject-specific words in the abstract, the article will be just as hard to read.
2. Read the conclusion:
This is where the author will repeat all of their ideas and their findings. Some authors even use this section to compare their study to others. By reading this, you will notice a few things you missed, and will get another overview of the content.
3. Read the first paragraph or the introduction:
This is usually where the author will lay out their plan for the article and describe the steps they will take to talk about their topic. By reading this, you will know what parts of the article will be most relevant to your topic!
4. Read the first sentence of every paragraph:
These are called topic sentences, and will usually introduce the idea for the paragraph that follows. By reading this, you can make sure that the paragraph has information relevant to your topic before you read the entire thing.
5. The rest of the article:
Now that you have gathered the idea of the article through the abstract, conclusion, introduction, and topic sentences, you can read the rest of the article!
*Used with permission from the Undergraduate Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sometimes it can be hard to figure out whether a scientific study is well-conducted.
Next time you read a scientific journal article, keep these criteria in mind:
Is this article fact or opinion?
Are counter-arguments acknowledged?
Are the results accurate and are they supported by the data and methodology presented?
Does this support or contradict other articles?
Are references to other works given?
Is the author an expert in this field?
What other works has he/she written?
Can you find out more about the author? What is his/her background?
Has this author been cited by others?
Some publications have an inherent bias that will impact articles printed in them. Can you determine this from looking at the journal?
Is the author's point of view impartial and objective? Are counter-arguments acknowledged?
What audience is the article designed for?
Is it too basic or too technical for your needs?
It is usually easy to determine the publication date of an article.
Adapted from BIO120: Adaptation and Biodiversity
Gerstein Science Information Centre
9 King's College Circle
Toronto, ON, M5S 1A5
About web accessibility. Tell us about a web accessibility problem.
About online privacy and data collection.
© University of Toronto. All rights reserved.