Skip to Main Content

PHYS 4310: Experiments in Physics

Reading Primary Research Articles

Do you need help reading and evaluating primary sources?

A primary source is an original document often created by someone directly involved in the endeavor being reported.  For example, a scientist writing about his research in an academic journal.  You might have trouble reading scientific articles at first.  They take skill to read. Try the following suggestions:

The easiest way to approach reading these research articles is to focus on certain sections first and not in the order in which they are presented. Information on the different sections of a primary scientific article can be found here. 

Here are some tips to help you approach your reading:

  • Start with reading the abstract and introduction
    • These will give you a general idea about what the article is about
  • If you don't know what a word means, look it up
  • Jump to the conclusion/discussion
    • This section will give you a broad view of what they found and what they think it means
  • Look and think about the figures and charts
    • Do the figures back up the claims made in the conclusion?  Are there any issues?
  • Read the results and methods
    • Think about whether the figures match with the results and whether the claims in the conclusion are backed up by the evidence presented.
  • Use the references to find more articles and resources!

Here are some tips to help you approach evaluating:

  • Do the results and methods support the conclusions?  Look at the figures. 
  • Are the researchers making accurate claims based on what the figures tell you? 
  • If there are issues, what are they? 
  • If there are issues, can you figure out what results the researcher needed to see in order to have made the conclusion they made?
  • Other things to consider:
    • What journal was the article published in?  Is it a well respected journal? 
    • Is the article peer reviewed (the journal should indicate this)?