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BIOL 225 Thomson: How to dissect a scientific article

Resources and information for BIOL 225, Organismal Biology, with Prof. Thomson

Dissecting a Scientific article

Use the "Anatomy of an Article" framework from Ask a Biologist (Arizona State University) to familiarize yourself with the organization of scientific articles in general. 

How to skim a scientific research article

Most scientific research articles are organized in the same way - and they make the most sense if you don't read them from start to finish, but read them out of order, section by section. Start with the abstract (the author's summary of their paper).

Then skip to the conclusions and discussion sections to learn what the research study found.

Next up as step 3 -  if the article still looks useful - read the Introduction. This should give you background context for this research study, why it matters and how it relates to other research studies.

And only then, when you think this article is still relevant to your question, go back to skim the description of the research project. and its methods. Be sure to note the size of the study (just a few? or thousands?) and if it was a controlled study (the "gold standard" for science is a double-blind study).

Image credits:  Kapi'olani Community College's Library & Learning Resources webpage on how to read a scholarly article.

Outline of a Scientific Research Article

For more than 40 years, research papers in the sciences and social sciences have been organized by IMRAD format. (More accurately, it should be TAB/IMRaC/DR sections, but that's difficult to say.) This stands for:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Background Introduction (which includes the research's hypothesis or thesis statement)
  • Research Methods
  • Results [and]
  • Conclusion / Discussion (which sometimes includes recommendations for further research)
  • References cited in the paper


Reading a research paper from start to finish can be more confusing than helpful!