Reading a Research Paper

Original Editor - Carina Therese Magtibay

Top Contributors - Carina Therese Magtibay  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Reading research.JPG

Reading research is an essential skill in providing high-quality healthcare. In the rehabilitation community, implementing evidence-based research into practice is necessary for improving patient outcomes and advancing the field as a whole.[1]

Due to the ever-increasing number of studies being published regularly, rehabilitation professionals must navigate through a large pool of information to identify relevant and reliable studies. Efficient reading can help filter research, so a practitioner can save time and focus only on the most appropriate information for specific clinical applications.

Multiple studies emphasize the significance of academic reading, which is often undervalued and rarely taught in universities. Professionals in every industry can reap benefits from developing the fundamental skill of reading, which requires consistent effort and practice.[2][3] [4]

Three-pass Approach[edit | edit source]

Reading a scientific paper can be challenging due to the amount of complex terminologies, methodologies, and statistical analyses. Starting to read from beginning to the end can cause frustration and exhaustion which can ultimately result in a sense of discouragement towards reading.

According to Keshav (2007), there is a simple way of reading a paper called the three-pass approach. From the name itself, the three-pass approach breaks down the paper in three passes, with each pass having specific objectives to gradually deepen the reader's understanding of the topic.[5]

First pass/ Bird's-eye view[edit | edit source]

The goal of this pass is to gain an overview/general idea of the paper in 5-10 minutes following these steps:[5]

  1. Carefully read the title, abstract and introduction.
  2. Read the section and sub-section headings. Ignore all other content.
  3. Read the conclusions.
  4. Skim through the references, and note the ones you have already read.

After the first-pass, the reader should be able to answer the 5C's:[5]

  1. Category: What type of research is this?
  2. Context: Is it related to other papers? Which theoretical bases were used to analyze the problem?
  3. Correctness: Does the hypothesis appear to be valid?
  4. Contributions: What are the primary contributions of the paper? Are the contributions meaningful and useful?
  5. Clarity: Is the paper well written? Are there grammatical and/or typographical errors?

Second pass[edit | edit source]

The goal of this pass is to grasp the main points of the paper while ignoring details such as proofs. This can be accomplished for up to an hour with these steps:[5]

  1. Carefully examine the figures, diagrams, and other illustrations presented on the paper. Are the graphs appropriately labeled? Look for error bars to establish statistical significance in the conclusions. These simple details will help in distinguishing high-quality work.
  2. In the reference section, identify relevant unread studies to know more about the background of the paper.

Now that the meat of the paper is established, the reader can:[5]

  • Discontinue reading if the paper is not relevant to what the reader is looking for.
  • Read the paper later after reading some background material.
  • Proceed with the third pass.

Note: It is perfectly normal to find the paper difficult to understand even after the second pass. This can be attributed to: unfamiliar subject matter, new experimental techniques used, poorly written content or simply that the reader is not in the right headspace to process the information.

Third pass[edit | edit source]

The goal of this pass is to fully understand the paper. This may take 4-5 hours for a beginner and about an hour for an experienced reader.

Keshav (2007) states that the key to the third pass is to attempt to ‘virtually re-implement’ the paper. This involves recreating the study by following the same assumptions and methods as the authors. This can help in recognizing the strengths of a paper as well as the flaws that can easily go unnoticed.

The reader should: [5]

  • Identify and question each assumption made in the paper.
  • Consider how you would personally present a specific idea.
  • By the end of this pass, the reader should be capable of recreating the complete structure of the paper from memory, while also being able to pinpoint the following:
    • Strong points of the paper
    • Implicit assumptions
    • Missing citations to relevant work
    • Potential issues with experimental or analytical techniques

Further reading[edit | edit source]

For more in-depth details about research, you can check out these links:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Whyte J, Barrett AM. Advancing the evidence base of rehabilitation treatments: a developmental approach. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation. 2012 Aug 1;93(8):S101-10.
  2. Bharuthram S, Clarence S. Teaching academic reading as a disciplinary knowledge practice in higher education. South African Journal of Higher Education. 2015 Jan 1;29(2):42-55.
  3. Rhead A. The trouble with academic reading: exposing hidden threshold concepts through academic reading retreats. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education ISSN. 1759 Nov;667(15):2019.
  4. Maguire M, Reynolds AE, Delahunt B. Reading to be: The role of academic reading in emergent academic and professional student identities. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice. 2020;17(2):5.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Keshav S. How to read a paper. ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review. 2007 Jul 20;37(3):83-4.