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BIOL 130L Research Guide: Reading Lab Reports and Articles

How to Read and Understand Research Articles

The Drill-Down Approach for scanning through a research article
Is there an abstract?

Read that first! A well-written abstract for a scholarly article should provide a concise overview of the entire article. This will allow you to identify articles that you need to explore further.

The abstract alerts you to a potentially useful or interesting article, OR there is no abstract:

  The Introduction Read the introduction next (or first if there is no abstract). It may seem obvious, but if the introduction presents a thoughtful argument, you will then want to skip ahead to the conclusions next.
    Discussion and Conclusion

These sections help summarize the information in the article, so you can decide if you need to study the important and detailed information and data contained within the Materials and Methods, and Results sections.

In a shorter lab report, the discussion is usually separate from the Results section, so it serves as the conclusion as well. But in longer lab reports or in many types of scholarly articles, it is common to have the discussion included within the results section itself, and have the conclusion as a separate section.

      Materials and Methods, and Results

The final sections you want to read are the Materials and Methods; and Results sections, and this is because they contain all the details of the experiment, or all of the critical factors that that led to the author’s conclusions.

These sections will often contain all of the raw data (if any), as well as tables, figures and diagrams. Because these sections contain the most amount of detail and all the critical information associated with the experiment or argument, this is where the reader needs to spend the most of their time.

Evaluating Sources with RADAR

Evaluating Sources with RADAR

R: Relevance

  • How is the information that you have found relevant to your assignment?

A: Authority

  • Who is the author/creator of the work? Be a detective!

D: Date

  • When was the information created? What dates ranges are important to you?

A: Accuracy

  • What clues can you get about the accuracy of the source?
    • Peer-review
    • Reference accuracy
    • Verifiable elsewhere?

R: Reason for writing

  • Why was this information created?
    • Research for new knowledge?
    • Debate?
    • Sell, persuade, entertain?
Source: Mandalios, J. (2013). RADAR: An approach for helping students evaluate Internet sources. Journal Of Information Science, 39, 470-478. doi:10.1177/0165551513478889

Learn more about the peer-review process

The Writing and Communication Centre: Critical Reading Resources