Reading and Understanding Research Articles

Tips for critical analysis of information for Plan C master's students.
  1. What is Research?
    • Systematic investigation into a subject to discover or revise facts, theories, and applications.
    • Involves the collection, interpretation, and analysis of data.
    • Can be qualitative (exploratory) or quantitative (statistical).
  2. What Is Peer Review?
    • A process where experts in the field evaluate the quality and validity of the research before it’s published.
    • Ensures the research methods and results are reliable and credible.
    • Identifies any errors or biases.
    • Recommends changes or additional experiments to clarify results.
  3. Sections of a Primary Scientific Article
    • Abstract: Provides a summary of the entire study.
    • Introduction: Presents the research question and background.
    • Methods: Describes how the study was conducted.
    • Results: Presents the findings of the study.
    • Discussion: Interprets the results and links them to other research.
    • Conclusion: Summarizes the study and suggests future research directions.
    • References: Lists the sources cited in the article.
  4. How to Read and Interpret Research Results
    • Read the abstract, introduction, and conclusion to get a basic understanding, then go back and read the results and methods to get a full picture.
    • Look at the data presented in tables, charts, and graphs.
    • Interpret the statistical analysis, including p-values, confidence intervals, and effect sizes.
    • Consider the context and limitations of the research.
  5. How to Critically Evaluate Both Research and Internet Articles
    • Check the Source: Evaluate the credibility of the publication or website. Look for reputable sources, authors, or institutions. Talk to your mentor or librarians for help.
    • Examine the Author’s Credentials: Check the author’s qualifications and expertise in the field. This can help determine the reliability of the information.
    • Assess the Content’s Accuracy: Cross-reference the information with other reliable sources to ensure its accuracy.
    • Analyze the Methodology: For research articles, scrutinize the methodology used. Check if the study design is appropriate, the sample size is adequate, and the analysis is correct.
    • Evaluate the Objectivity: Determine if the content is biased* or objective. Look for any potential conflicts of interest.
    • Review the Citations: Check the references or citations used in the article. They should be from credible and relevant sources.
    • Consider the Date of Publication: Ensure the content is up to date. Research published in the last ten years is generally considered current.
    • Compare and contrast existing literature: Explore current literature to determine whether existing research supports or contradicts the author’s conclusions.
    • Look at the Presentation: The content should be well-organized and free of grammatical errors. This can reflect the quality of the work.
    • Remember, critical evaluation involves questioning the information you are reading and making a judgment on the validity and reliability of the content.
      *Bias may refer to prejudiced or discriminatory tendencies based on group affiliations, immutable physical characteristics, or cultural factors. In the context of a research experiment, bias may also refer to systematic errors or random deviations from the truth that can occur, leading to false or misleading results.
  6. How to Cite Published Research
    • Identify the main research question and each of the smaller research questions needed to answer the main question.
    • Understand the main points and arguments.
    • Identify the approach. Which methods were used?
    • Summarize the results for each publication then tell a story about your research by comparing and contrasting existing literature.
    • Always cite the original source to avoid plagiarism.
  7. How to Cite Published Research
    • Use a citation style guide (like APA, MLA, or Chicago; available on to properly cite the research. Which style guide you use depends on the target journal.
    • Include in-text citations and a reference list according to the style guide used.
    • Use a tool like EndNote (license required), RefWorks (subscription required), Zotero (free), or Mendeley (free). Google Scholar also has a button to copy citations and a Chrome extension to quickly search and cite articles. Other helpful tools include Scribbr and MyBib.
  8. Other Helpful Resources