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Michigan State University

VM 150: Hospital Procedures & Communication

Information and resources for students in VM 150: Hospital Procedures & Communication. Last updated: 12/11/23.

Identifying a Scientific Paper

There are many things to consider when identifying a scientific paper, but the following can be used as guidelines:

  1. Usually 5 main components: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Conclusion.
    1. May also have keywords, acknowledgements, and appendices.
    2. Appearance may vary depending on publisher and platform.
  2. Author(s) and affiliation(s) clearly identified.
  3. Detailed bibliography or works cited.
  4. Often peer-reviewed.
    1. Peer-reviewed means that the paper has been reviewed by other experts in the field who judged the quality of the paper before it was published.

Note: With the exception of peer-review, meeting the criteria above does not say anything about the credibility or reliability of a paper. You should still consider the guidelines for Evaluating Sources.

The Writing in the Medical Sciences guide has a number of resources for writing in the medical field. It is useful for those new to the topic of reading and writing scientific papers as it introduces many of the basic principles.

Reading a Paper

It is often necessary to read a paper multiple times before completely understanding it. As you are reading, pay attention to the following:

  • Are previous findings supported by evidence?
  • What is the hypothesis/what is being tested?
  • What is the sample size? Is it representative of a larger population?
  • Do the methods make sense? Is the study repeatable?
  • Do the results make sense for the methods used?
  • Does the author address any shortcomings of the study?
  • Look closely and graphs and figures and try and interpret what data is being presented without looking at the captions or text of the paper. Do you come to the same conclusion as the author(s)?
  • Does the author link findings and issues to other research in the field? Do they discuss possible future research?

It can be helpful to take notes and highlight key findings while reading the paper, then write down a summary of major points after finishing the paper. The inforgraphic How to Read a Scientific Paper provides more information on this process.

Finally, after you have read a paper and feel confident that you understand it, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Why did I choose this paper?
  2. Does the outcome change what I know/want to do?
  3. Do I have enough information?