36.1 Introduction

Science requires reading the research of others. Research is usually communicated in journal articles (also called papers), or sometimes in presentations (conferences; seminars). Milllions of journal articles are available (many online), and this book references many articles.

At some time during your university studies, you will need to read articles: so you know why your discipline does things as it does, the evidence for doing so, and open questions in your discipline. Understanding the language of research is important for understanding these articles.

However, reading a research article can be hard work… A good place to start is to read the Abstract (sometimes called a Summary, or Overview): a useful overview of the whole paper (without details).

To understand a paper, the six steps of the research process can be used as a guide::

  1. Ask the question: What research question is the paper answering? Are inclusion and/or exclusion criteria given?
  2. Design the study: How did the authors design the study? Is the study designed to maximize internal and external validity? What are the design limitations?
  3. Collect the data: How did the authors collect the data? Could the study be approximately repeated if needed?
  4. Describe and summarise the data: Is the data summary appropriate, complete and clear?
  5. Analyse the data: Is the analysis appropriate, accurate, valid and clear?
  6. Report the results: Are the results accurately, appropriately and well reported? What is the answer to the RQ? What other questions have emerged?

In the examples that follow, some extracts from articles will be studied.