Introduction to Scientific Research
Written by Tim Huntley
You might be a student with a homework assignment, someone who is searching for answers to a health question, or someone who is intrigued by a research study mentioned in the newspaper or on television. Honestly there could be a thousand reasons why you want to learn how to read scientific research.
Independent of your age or education, you have the capability to understand scientific research studies. I’m not suggesting that everyone should become a research scientist, but with a reasonable amount of effort, you can read, evaluate, and utilize the researcher’s work. You simply need a roadmap to guide you along the way, and that is the purpose of this article.
Research articles you find via a Pubmed search have most likely been evaluated by a number of other researchers prior to publication. This evaluation is called the peer-review process.
Scholarly and scientific research journals typically require that articles undergo a rigorous review process before they can be published. The completed article is submitted to a team of academic and research experts who critically evaluate the study and expose flaws and inaccuracies prior to publication. A review may find that the article is acceptable, acceptable but in need of revisions, or not acceptable for publication.
Organization of this Tutorial
Each section listed below is maintained on a separate web page, so simply click on the highlighted link to read that part of the tutorial. If you already have a background in science, you can probably skip over the first part of the paper covering the Scientific Method.
The Scientific Method – An overview of the process that scientist use to construct and evaluate a hypothesis.
Finding Scientific Reports Online – This page will help you locate research abstracts and journal articles online. Specifically, I show examples using the abstract database available from Pubmed.
Components of Research Reports – An overview of how a research report is structured and the purpose of each section within the report.
Key Terms and Concepts in Scientific Research – A reference page highlighting the most important concepts you need to understand as you read a report.
Bad Science: Common Problems in Research Articles – A few of the most common problems found in research articles and in media references to scientific research.
Contributors and Reviewers – Credits for people who contributed to this article or provided review feedback.
The material in this tutorial will give you an introduction to reading a research report, but it will not make you an expert. If you want or need a deeper understanding of the basic concepts, I have included references to additional information.