Hints to reading academic journals

These are the sections of a paper/article you should read first:

  1. The Abstract — If provided, this section of a paper gives a general overview of the paper’s content. It’s good to start here first, to sort of “seed” the ideas and concepts of the paper into your head.
  2. The Introduction — Like the abstract, this segment gives you the general overview and setting of the paper. Sometimes you’ll find brief descriptions of key concepts or phrases, which are always a big plus to go through. These can help you use other keywords to search for articles.
  3. The Conclusion /Discussion — This the section of the paper where the hypothesis is either accepted or rejected. More often than not reading the conclusion can help you decide if you want to spend your time reading the paper or not if you are looking for a specific method of doing something.

If you read these 3 sections first, you will find that you’ll be able to have a better sense of what’s going on in the paper. Especially in the technically heavier parts like the Methods section. You’ll also be able to decide if this paper is something that is truly relevant to what you are looking for.

You will not understand everything in one read through

When you encounter something you don’t understand, there are 2 things you can do:

  1. Plow right through the unknown word or term. If it’s something important, you’ll most likely be able to derive it’s meaning through the context in which is used in. Make a list of each word/term that you don’t understand. You can always come back to it later. This method prioritizes speed.
  2. Pause and look-up the meaning of the word. Do this after deciding the paper will give key insights on a specific area. This method prioritizes understanding.

Don't Ignore the References!

Read papers from the references. As you read more and more papers from a particular subject area, you’ll start to realize that a few common titles would appear more than once. 

Finding and reading these papers often boost your understanding of the subject as a whole much more than compared to randomly picking papers to read. Also, you will add to your sources.


Lee, James. "How to Read Academic Papers without Freaking Out." Medium, 29 Dec. 2017, medium.com/ai-saturdays/how-to-read-academic-papers-without-freaking-out-3f7ef43a070f#:~:text=Be%20Curious,as%20truth%20and%20accept%20them. Accessed 8 Sept. 2020.