Understanding research papers


Looks like your cookies are disabled. Please enable and try again. HuffPost is now part of the Verizon Media family. We Verizon Media and our partners need your consent to access your device, set cookies, and use your data, including your location, to understand your interests, provide relevant ads and measure their effectiveness. Verizon Media will also provide relevant ads to you on our partners' products. Abstracts can be "unstructured" written in one long paragraph or "structured" broken down into individual section headings.

The introduction introduces the research by presenting the research question s or aim s and explaining why it is worthwhile. Introductions generally include background information about the topic being studied, and describe other relevant research. Sometimes the introduction section does not have a title. It describes the broad study design for example whether it is a randomised controlled trial, a case-control study, a survey etc.

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The researchers must also describe how they measured the outcomes i. A good methods section gives the reader enough detail that they could repeat the study themselves in a way that is identical to the original in every relevant way, to see if they produce similar results.


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The results section or findings section reports the results of the study. For example, if the research involved a large quantitative survey, the results section would include information about how many people completed the survey, basic information describing those people, and statistical analysis of the answers given in the survey. If the method was a small set of qualitative interviews, the findings the authors would report what the interviewees said, using quotations from transcripts to illustrate important findings.

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Where appropriate, results are shown in tables, graphs and other figures. If tables or figures are too large, or there are very many of them, they may be included on the journal website instead of the published paper. The results section is usually for the straightforward reporting of findings, and analysis of the meanings of those findings is often saved for the discussion section.

There are thousands of scientific journals that publish research articles. These journals are diverse and can be distinguished according to their field of specialization. Among the most broadly targeted and competitive are journals like Cell , the New England Journal of Medicine NEJM , Nature , and Science that all publish a wide variety of research articles see Figure 1 for an example.

Cell focuses on all areas of biology, NEJM on medicine, and both Science and Nature publish articles in all areas of science. Scientists submit manuscripts for publication in these journals when they feel their work deserves the broadest possible audience.

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Just below these journals in terms of their reach are the top-tier disciplinary journals like Analytical Chemistry, Applied Geochemistry, Neuron, Journal of Geophysical Research , and many others. These journals tend to publish broad-based research focused on specific disciplines, such as chemistry, geology, neurology, nuclear physics, etc. While the research published in various journals does not differ in terms of the quality or the rigor of the science described, it does differ in its degree of specialization: These journals tend to be more specialized, and thus appeal to a more limited audience.

All of these journals play a critical role in the advancement of science and dissemination of information see our Utilizing the Scientific Literature module for more information. However, to understand how science is disseminated through these journals, you must first understand how the articles themselves are formatted and what information they contain. While some details about format vary between journals and even between articles in the same journal, there are broad characteristics that all scientific journal articles share.

Journals that are narrow in focus, such as the American Journal of Potato Research , do not advance science. In June of , the journal Science published a research report on a sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird long considered extinct in North America Fitzpatrick et al. The work was of such significance and broad interest that it was displayed prominently on the cover Figure 2 and highlighted by an editorial at the front of the journal Kennedy, The authors were aware that their findings were likely to be controversial, and they worked especially hard to make their writing clear.

Although the article has no headings within the text, it can easily be divided into sections:. Title and authors: The title of a scientific article should concisely and accurately summarize the research. The names of all scientific contributors are listed as authors immediately after the title. You may be used to seeing one or maybe two authors for a book or newspaper article, but this article has seventeen authors!

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It's unlikely that all seventeen of those authors sat down in a room and wrote the manuscript together. Instead, the authorship reflects the distribution of the workload and responsibility for the research, in addition to the writing. By convention, the scientist who performed most of the work described in the article is listed first, and it is likely that the first author did most of the writing.

Other authors had different contributions; for example, Gene Sparling is the person who originally spotted the bird in Arkansas and was subsequently contacted by the scientists at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. In some cases, but not in the woodpecker article, the last author listed is the senior researcher on the project, or the scientist from whose lab the project originated. Increasingly, journals are requesting that authors detail their exact contributions to the research and writing associated with a particular study.

Abstract: The abstract is the first part of the article that appears right after the listing of authors in an article. In it, the authors briefly describe the research question, the general methods, and the major findings and implications of the work. Providing a summary like this at the beginning of an article serves two purposes: First, it gives readers a way to decide whether the article in question discusses research that interests them, and second, it is entered into literature databases as a means of providing more information to people doing scientific literature searches.

For both purposes, it is important to have a short version of the full story. In this case, all of the critical information about the timing of the study, the type of data collected, and the potential interpretations of the findings is captured in four straightforward sentences as seen below:. The ivory-billed woodpecker Campephilus principalis , long suspected to be extinct, has been rediscovered in the Big Woods region of eastern Arkansas.


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Visual encounters during and , and analysis of a video clip from April , confirm the existence of at least one male. Acoustic signatures consistent with Campephilus display drums also have been heard from the region.

Extensive efforts to find birds away from the primary encounter site remain unsuccessful, but potential habitat for a thinly distributed source population is vast over , hectares. Introduction: The central research question and important background information are presented in the introduction. Because science is a process that builds on previous findings, relevant and established scientific knowledge is cited in this section and then listed in the References section at the end of the article.

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In many articles, a heading is used to set this and subsequent sections apart, but in the woodpecker article the introduction consists of the first three paragraphs, in which the history of the decline of the woodpecker and previous studies are cited. The introduction is intended to lead the reader to understand the authors' hypothesis and means of testing it. In addition, the introduction provides an opportunity for the authors to show that they are aware of the work that scientists have done before them and how their results fit in, explicitly building on existing knowledge.

Materials and methods: In this section, the authors describe the research methods they used see The Practice of Science module for more information on these methods. All procedures, equipment, measurement parameters, etc. In addition, authors explain the sources of error and procedures employed to reduce and measure the uncertainty in their data see our Uncertainty, Error, and Confidence module.

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The detail given here allows other scientists to evaluate the quality of the data collected. This section varies dramatically depending on the type of research done. In an experimental study, the experimental set-up and procedure would be described in detail, including the variables, controls, and treatment. The woodpecker study used a descriptive research approach, and the materials and methods section is quite short, including the means by which the bird was initially spotted on a kayaking trip and later photographed and videotaped.

Understanding research papers
Understanding research papers
Understanding research papers
Understanding research papers
Understanding research papers
Understanding research papers
Understanding research papers

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