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Scientific Research and Communication — Critical Reading Methods

Developing Communication Competencies for STEM Students

What is critical reading in the sciences?

As you advance in your studies in the sciences, you will be asked to critically read research articles in peer reviewed journals.  What are some of the methods for reading critically?  You will find resources here on this page.

students reading in adirondack chairs outside at uconn

Above: photo by Sean Flynn/UConn Photo


The information below in italics is extracted from the UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal's Guide to Scientific Writing.  The link to the guide is below.  

You must be able to evaluate the techniques used, results obtained, conclusions drawn, and errors present in each study, and then apply your evaluation to your topic.

Below are some questions to help you start thinking about each study. For each research study you read, ask yourself:

  •  Has the author formulated a thesis? What is the problem or issue being addressed?
  • What are the strengths and limitations of the way the author has formulated the problem? Could the problem be approached more effectively from another perspective?
  •  Is this paper primarily theoretical, experimental, interpretive, or clinical? A combination? Could the study have been better if conducted in a different framework? (i.e., could a theoretical study have been strengthened by actual experiment? Was a clinical study crippled by a lack of theoretical work?)
  • What is the author's theoretical framework? The theories to which the authors subscribe manifest themselves through their assumptions, interpretations, and conclusions. What assumptions have your authors made? And how do those assumptions affect the conclusions they draw?
  • Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the problem/issue? Does the author discuss studies that contradict his/her thesis as well as those that support it?
  • How effective is the study’s design? Is the method for investigating the problem appropriate? What errors does the method introduce? How accurate and valid are the measurements?
  • Is the analysis of the data accurate and relevant to the research question?
  • Are the conclusions validly based upon the data and analysis?
  •  Has the author objectively carried out the study, or only “proved” what he already believes?
  •  Does this study contribute to our understanding of the problem? How is it useful to us?


Books on Reading Research Articles