How to Read Scientific Research Papers – High School Edition

How to Read Scientific Research Papers
Having the capability to interpret scientific research papers is a must-have skill for college students. But unfortunately, many universities don't offer instruction on how to do this. As a result, considerable time and energy are squandered while attempting to comprehend and apply knowledge from these documents. Learning how to read a research paper is challenging and requires much practice. High school students can get a head start and gain experience immediately by starting to read one today!
1. Types of scientific papers

There are various types of scientific research papers, each with its own unique style of writing that can help students develop different reading approaches. Primary articles, for instance, provide original research data and conclusions from the study’s researchers. Reading this type of paper enables students to grasp how research is completed while simultaneously providing a way to challenge or verify its authenticity and then apply what they learn to their own work.

Secondary research documents, including review articles and systematic reviews, provide students with helpful information to better understand the primary source material. They offer an overview of relevant topics within the field and present different views from experts in the industry—a great way to develop a well-rounded perspective on any given topic. That said, readers need not take what is written as gospel; they should assess all perspectives critically rather than prematurely forming conclusions.

Special articles are letters to editors, commentaries, and correspondences–overall editorial papers. These articles are all short communications written on topics of interest to readers. Some common topics for these special articles include responses to previously published articles, feedback on research data, or feedback on case reports. Students can read these special articles when they seek answers about the primary research paper(s) that they have read.

2. What is covered in a research paper?

Before heading into the scientific research reading strategy, we would like to introduce the main sections of a research paper. In this case, we will only include sections of a primary research paper, as students will mainly read this paper as a reference and for insights into writing their own. Primary research articles have seven sections: abstract, introduction, methods and experiments, results, discussion, references, and tables and figures.


The abstract is a one-paragraph summary of the entire paper. Typically, it is less than 300 words in length and normally highlights the hypothesis, results of experiments, and the author’s conclusions.


The introduction gives the reader background information about the study and its topic. The author will also summarize prior research, discuss unresolved topics related to this paper, and provide an overview of the study below.

Methods and Experiments

In this section, the authors will lay out in detail how the research was conducted, from recruiting samples to discussing biases, study design, procedure, and logistics of the experiment. The method will provide sufficient information for another researcher to either duplicate or evaluate the research.


The Results section is relatively straightforward because this section describes the results of statistical tests and an overview of the data. The results will help students understand whether the experiment’s method is effective and gives reliable results.


The discussion is drawn from the results of the study. This section will address the author’s opinion and conclusion of the results and offer a new hypothesis and suggestions for further investigations.


References include an alphabetized list of the sources used in writing this primary research paper.

Tables and Figures

Data discussed anywhere in the research paper will be provided here.

3. How to read scientific research paper: The Three-Pass Approach

We will be introducing the three-pass approach to reading scientific research papers. Before applying this approach, we recommend evaluating and choosing to read papers that are valuable to you. A quick way to determine this is to look at the source; check whether the paper is credible and published in a peer-reviewed journal. Secondly, evaluate the researcher; consider how many papers they have written, how many have been in a peer-reviewed journal, and their credentials. Finally, the date of the research – much research conducted in the past is no longer relevant in modern times due to changes in human behavior and lifestyle. Therefore, depending on your paper, you may or may not proceed with reading older articles.

The Three-Pass Approach is introduced by Professor Keshav at the University of Waterloo. With this approach, you read the scientific research paper three times, each with a different purpose. 

  • The first pass gives you a general idea of the paper
  • The second pass gives you information about the paper’s content 
  • The third pass helps you understand the paper in depth
First Pass:

The purpose of the first pass is to scan the scientific research paper quickly. Remember those sections in the research paper? We will only read through the title, abstract, and introduction for the first pass. After that, you should read the header of each section to get an overview. Then, move on to reading the conclusion and glance over the references to see the overall theme of the papers mentioned.

The first pass should only take 5 to 10 minutes. After that, you may choose whether or not to read the paper, as it may not be relevant to what you are researching. If you decide to keep reading, you should be able to answer this question at the end of the first pass:

  • Category: What type of paper is this? A measurement paper? An analysis of an existing system? A description of a research prototype?
  • Context: Which other papers is it related to? Which theoretical bases were used to analyze the problem?
  • Correctness: Do the assumptions appear to be valid?
  • Contributions: What are the paper’s main contributions?
  • Clarity: Is the paper well written?
Second Pass

After the first pass, the second pass is your opportunity to read through the content, but not the details. For this pass, you should read the paper more carefully. The process may take up to an hour, but no more. Within this time, you should be able to understand the main content of the paper and its supporting evidence. The paper might not be easy to read, so don’t force yourself to finish it all at once. You can set it aside and come back when you feel refreshed.

Third Pass

The first pass of the paper can take up to four to five hours. During this process, you will be able to read the paper critically and evaluate it by pinpointing assumptions, identifying its weak points, and looking for potential issues with the experiments. The key to success in the third pass is putting yourself in the author’s shoes and virtually reimplementing the paper.

The first time implementing this method will be challenging, as you are not used to reading a paper repeatedly. With more practice, however, you can quickly read through tens of papers in an unfamiliar field and grasp the content.

Mastering the Three-Pass Approach is an effortless and powerful way to comprehend research papers quickly. It will help you grasp a paper’s fundamental ideas and evaluate its credibility without expending too much time. Through consistent practice of this method, you can become more productive in reading scientific documents – best of luck!

Economic Research

Students will use college-level economic theory and models to analyze the financial impact on the global economy. The economic tutor will provide students with the models and tools necessary to write an economic research paper. The economic research project encourages students to integrate their acquired knowledge of economic theory, phenomenon, data, and policy.

Project time:

Historical Research and Writing

Through Historical Research and Writing, students will learn about choosing a topic, composing research questions, effective research methods, drafting, composing, and revising. These skills will be taught with an emphasis on historical research, allowing students to engage in analysis of primary and secondary sources, discover interesting insights in history, and partake in the active pursuit of understanding the importance of the historical study.

Project time:

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