When I was a master student I found it challenging to get prepared for journal clubs even if I have a week ahead to prepare. The big barrier was how to understand a scientific paper that was assigned for a discussion besides my research work. I thought I had a problem understanding science, however, it turned out to be one of the most common difficulties among the vast majority of master students, PhD students, and even early postdocs. The art of how to read fully blown information-rich scientific papers and to rapidly assess their content lies actually beneath simple fact. The more you read and analyze your way of reading the easier it becomes to assess papers especially if you are on a tight schedule or having a journal club coupled with work or a scientific meeting or even a discussion and you do not have enough time to go through the paper thoroughly. Therefore, a simple and fast technique on how to squeeze the information from the paper would save the day. In this blog, I will walk you through basic steps on how to evaluate virtually any scientific paper in less than 10 minutes using smart reading techniques and fast ways to track and extract the most valuable information out of the paper. For the purpose of demonstration, I have randomly selected an open-access paper of Xiaoyan et al. oncotarget 2014 which is not in my playground to show you practically how to use the smart reading strategy. (Link to download the paper click here).
1. Read the abstract (1-2min).
This is probably the first traditional way to go “literally” through any published papers and in fact, it is still the first thing you need to do to get an idea or to build a background on the published work. Of course, you would not go through the paper if the abstract didn’t drive your interest. Therefore, your first bet would be how the abstract would switch your desire to continue reading the full paper. Thanks to most of the scientific journals who made a short and concise abstract a pre-requisite to publish the papers. Now in the abstract, find which information is important to you and highlight it. Perhaps you would be interested in some methodologies, specific results, or even the whole content in general. Just decide what is important to you first.
2. Do not lose time in reading the introduction and locate the last paragraph of the introduction. (1min)
The introduction is meant to give the reader a background on the subject and why the research is performed. In other words, it tells you the basics of how the research question has been utilized. You are in the field and you should have some sort of background already from the abstract. Thus, the introduction would just aid in putting you on the track. Leave all things behind and navigate to the last paragraph in the introduction. This is where the most important piece of information is located. You will find information on why and how the research has been set up and conclusions.
3. Squeeze down the results in no time (3-4 min)
After you have had a fast background in less than 3 minutes, it is now time to go through the results. Navigate to the last sentence of each result section. If the results section has different paragraphs continue finding the last sentence in each one. You will find out what is most important in this part. Just practice and try to find the rest in the results section of the paper below through the link provided even if you don’t have much experience in the research work.
4. Wrap up the paper (1min)
To find a summary of the paper including potential findings and conclusions, locate the last paragraph of the discussion part. This section contains all you need to recap what you have gone through.
In summary, a general overview of the paper has never been easy and it only takes time to practice. The strategy above can be applied literally to most of the scientific papers. Once you master the smart reading technique you will find yourself smoothly going through the paper in less than 5 min. BINGO! You have now more than enough time to look at the figures or methods of interest and assign the time required. Again, it is just a matter of practice and eventually, you would be able even to digest the figures as well super fast.
Good luck with your readings.