– Primary scientific articles are articles that present new research and have been peer reviewed before publication. A good way to identify if a paper is a primary paper is to see if it has a methods section. Papers with methods sections are generally primary papers while those without are generally review articles or opinion pieces.
– If you are new to a field and want to get an overview of what is known it is helpful to find a review article on the topic. Review articles are published in the same scientific journals as primary articles but instead of presenting original research they are written by experts in the research area who summarize the current state of knowledge in the field.
– Leave yourself plenty of time for background research. Tracking down and reading scientific papers can take a long time. You may read one paper to find that it references another you want to read and so on. So you may end up reading multiple papers (each of which can be time consuming to read and understand) when you originally just chose one paper from your search results to read.
– Take the time to carefully read abstracts. Abstracts are short and relatively easy to comprehend. It is much better to take the time to read several abstracts carefully in order to best identify the few papers you really need to read in full to use as background references in your own work.
– Take notes while you read papers. It can be very helpful to take notes in the margins of papers to remind yourself of what various acronyms stand for, how different variables relate to each other, or to summarize key points. Keeping notes will not only help you keep everything straight as you read (or reread) but will also help you remember the paper and its findings.
– Introductions in papers can be a great place to find other references. When an introduction states a piece of information you would like to include in your own paper, track down their references for that statement and read them.
– Pay attention to publication dates. For some fields you want to make sure you are reading recent papers (with the past 5 years) as scientific understanding can advanced quickly in certain areas.
– If you find a highly relevant paper you may want to try searching for other papers by the same authors as they may have followed the work up with another related study.
– If you find a useful article you may want to use your search tool to find related articles (usually related articles are listed) or to find papers that have cited the article (also often listed).
– When you are writing your own paper, do not have your reference papers in front of you (it is difficult to state things in your own words if you are looking at the published work and their wording as you write). Instead, keep your notes from the papers you read to remind yourself of the papers and summarize their findings in your own words.