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Life, Society & Drugs: Appropriate Sources

This guides shows how to identify appropriate sources for Salt Lake Community College's Life, Society & Drugs course

Why can it be difficult to read scholarly articles?

Reading scientific papers can be difficult! Regardless of whether you are a first-time college student, a seasoned researcher, or somewhere in between, reading these journal articles, especially on an unfamiliar topic, can be an overwhelming task. This page provides strategies for making it easier to read these articles.

Subject specialists write academic journal articles for a specific audience and purpose. The intended audience is usually limited, comprised of of fellow experts, researchers, and scholars. The articles often report on original research, taking a "deep dive," so to speak, into a particular, specific facet of a topic. Because of these two factors, authors often use technical jargon and a great amount of detail.

The authors assume their readers have a shared vocabulary and background understanding of the topic. When first exploring a new subject, you may not have these things; as a result, the language and level of detail may be overwhelming.

The good news is that you don't have to become a subject expert before you start engaging meaningfully with scientific articles! Here are some tips for making reading scholarly articles less daunting.

Tips for Reading Scientific Papers

Don't immediately read the article from start to finish!

This can be overwhelming and leave you without a clear idea of what the article is about. Instead:

1. Skim

Start by reading the abstract (the brief summary of the article) to make sure the article is relevant to your topic. Then skim the introduction before skipping to the results and/or discussion section. Don't worry about understanding everything you read at this point.

2. Read the whole article more carefully

If, based on your skim, the article still seems relevant now take the time to read through the whole article.

3. Look up words

Look up words and concepts you aren't familiar with as you read. Start familiarizing yourself with some of the topic's background and vocabulary. 

4. Take notes

As you go, jot down notes that help you understand what the article is driving at. Try highlighting quotes or sections that have bearing on your topic.

5. Summarize

After you finish reading through the article, write a quite summary or reflection while the article is still fresh on your mind.

6. Make connections

Think about how the article relates to your overarching topic. Does it add something new to your discussion? Will it help you show a new angle to your topic? Consider how the article ties in with the other sources you have read.