Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reading a paper fast

This morning, I overheard someone in the lab say:"We'll put that somewhere deep in the discussion; I never read the discussion anyway". This person said that if ze reads a papers fast, ze'll read the results section to figure out what the paper is about. To me that was kind of weird, because if I read a paper fast I'll read the abstract, look at the figures and then read the discussion. Because there the authors will summarize their findings but also put them in perspective and hint at future directions.

What do you read when you quickly scan through a paper?


  1. Abstract, figures, quick scan of results and the first paragraph of the discussion.

  2. Figures, then methods to check for stuff that wasn't clear from the figures, then discussion scan for points I'm curious about.

    However, when I'm reading a paper as a reviewer, I read the discussion very carefully to make sure the authors don't overstate their findings and make logical inferences.

  3. It really depends on what I am reading it for. A lot of times I am just looking for one rate constant or one parameter to add to my model, so I seriously jump right to a single figure or result that gives me the info I want.
    But For other things, like deciding whether I want to blog about a paper, I read the abstract, intro and discussion. I want to see what the authors 'think they did.' Then if they 'think' they did something interesting, I'll read the paper more carefully to see if they 'really' did it.

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  5. like yoi I focus on the figures and discussion. I sometimes can't figure out the implications of data just by looking at it, and the discusson is meant to do that

  6. If I'm not sure that I need to read this paper at all (or how deep I should read it), I explore it in the following order:

    Figures at a glance
    Figures, more carefully
    ( this point you sometimes have to glance in the Methods, to understand the prep they used. Normally it should be stated in the abstract, as we know, but some people think the whole world works in their preparation...)
    Last paragraph of the intro ("in this paper we ...")
    First paragraphs of the discussion ("Our results show that ...")
    Everything else