Part Three: How to Quickly Scan and Understand a Scientific Research Paper

The nutrition space can be extremely noisy. At Needed, we are committed to highlighting nutrition fundamentals over fads, and we want to empower you to do the same. Today, we are sharing the last of three articles on Finding, Evaluating, and Understanding Scientific Research. In this post, we share five easy steps on how to identify, quickly scan, understand, and summarize a scientific paper.

1. Scan the Title and Abstract

Skim over the study title and abstract to get “the big picture” on what the researchers investigated and what conclusions were drawn based on the results.

  • If it is of interest and looks like a legitimate study, move through the rest of the article. If not, you can easily move on to a different study at this point.
  • Make a note of any terms or techniques you don’t fully understand and need to define.
  • Write down any questions the abstract raises for you.

2. Identify the Type of Study Design

All types of studies provide useful information for consideration; however, not all study designs are created equal. Experimental designs, measuring cause and effect, provide more statistically significant research than correlational designs, which examine associations or relationships. Furthermore, systematic reviews and meta-analyses are seen as a higher degree of evidence, as they collect, analyze, and summarize an entire body of literature regarding a particular topic.

3. Skim the Methodologies, Materials, and Results

Quickly review the materials, methods, and results of the studies, looking more carefully at any graphs, charts, or images presented, as these are often used to succinctly present study design and results. Try interpreting the data presented in charts, graphs, etc. before reading the authors explanation of them.

4. Ask Yourself Questions About the Research

  • What questions or problem does the study address?
  • What type of study was conducted (pilot, pharmacokinetic, DBRPC trial, etc.)
  • How long ago was it conducted? Does it present new research?
  • Why are the study results important?
  • How many subjects were enrolled and how long did the study last?
  • Were the subjects healthy or did they have a medical condition?
  • What is the age and gender of study participants?
  • Did the study have a control/placebo group?
  • Are the study methods reasonable?
  • Are the study findings unique and supported by current and/or past research?
  • Were the study results statistically significant (P value <0.05)?
  • Are there any financial disclosures that could have corrupted the results?
  • How many times has the article been cited by other researchers?
  • Is the journal of publication well respected within the scientific community?

5. Helpful Insights to Reading Scientific Articles 

  • If things are not clearly stated by the authors, try to draw inferences from their research.
  • Look for unique results and phrases like “an unexpected result was…,” in contrast to earlier research…,” or “data suggest…,”
  • Is this a new and unique finding that was not previously studied? This might indicate ground-breaking research.

At Needed, we are committed to owning our own growth - from education to product development to being patient and supportive community members - and we hope to empower and inspire you to do the same.