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How to Read a Scientific Publication

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

As a science student or researcher, reading primary scientific publications is an important part of staying up-to-date with the latest developments in your field. Primary scientific publications are the primary source of new scientific knowledge, and being able to read and understand them is crucial for success in your studies and future career.

However, reading primary scientific publications can be challenging, especially for those who are new to the field. These publications often contain complex information presented in a dense and technical language, and they can be difficult to understand if you're not familiar with the concepts and principles they discuss.

Top five tips for reading a scientific primary publication:

  1. Start by reading the abstract. The abstract is a brief summary of the main points of the publication, and it can give you a good overview of the content without requiring you to read the entire article. By reading the abstract, you can get a sense of the main points of the publication, the methods used, and the results obtained.

  2. Look for key terms and definitions. Many primary scientific publications use specialized vocabulary and technical language that may be unfamiliar to you. As you read, pay attention to any key terms or definitions that are introduced, and make sure you understand their meaning and significance. If you're not sure about a term or definition, don't be afraid to look it up or ask for clarification.

  3. Take note of the methods and results. Primary scientific publications often include detailed descriptions of the methods used to conduct the research, as well as the results obtained. Make sure you understand the methods used, and pay attention to the results presented. This can help you evaluate the reliability and validity of the research, and it can also give you a better understanding of the conclusions drawn.

  4. Consider the limitations and implications. Primary scientific publications often discuss the limitations of the research, as well as the implications of the results. Make sure you understand the limitations of the study, and consider how they may affect the validity and reliability of the results. Also, think about the implications of the results, and consider how they may impact future research or real-world applications.

  5. Seek out additional resources. If you're having trouble understanding a primary scientific publication, don't be afraid to seek out additional resources that can help. This may include looking up key terms or concepts, reading reviews or commentary on the publication, or asking for help from a mentor or colleague. By using these resources, you can gain a better understanding of the publication and its content.

Reading primary scientific publications is an important skill for any science student or researcher. By following these tips and using additional resources, you can improve your ability to read and understand these important sources of scientific knowledge.

Now, let's practice!

Run through the activity below and practice reading one of our favorite publications from Andrew May's laboratory.

Interactive Learning Activity:

click the button on the bottom right of image (3 dots) to enter full screen.



Kristina Tatiossian, PhD


CRISPR Classroom was founded to close the gap between STEM innovation and education, helping lower the barriers that parents, students, and educators face when searching for enriching and hands-on educational content. The company leverages their deep expertise in science storytelling to build learning programs for students at scale. With its foundations in educational innovation, the company's platforms integrate courses, hands-on experimental kits, and career education to advance both educator- and student-led initiatives. With its users from over 40 countries and thousands of others following their story on social media, CRISPR Classroom is at the forefront of STEM education enabling the next generation of students to think critically, solve complex problems, and address our most pressing issues with logic and creativity.

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