How to read a research paper

If I’m completely in the groove, with a firm topic in mind, I find it relatively easier to read papers. However when I’m attempting to get started on something, or am reading a paper which, say, I have to summarize for a course, I lose my footing. I procrastinate, I become reluctant to start.

I decided I wanted out of this shite, and hence googled for ‘How To Read A Paper’. I found this paper by someone from the University of Waterloo, and I suspect this will help out greatly.

Let me summarize it for you.

Essentially, given a research paper, you go over it in three passes.

First Pass (5-10 minutes):

  • Read the Title, Abstract and Introduction.
  • Read the section/subsection headings and ignore all else
  • Read the conclusions
  • Glance over the references and tick off those you’ve already read.
  • By the end of this pass, you should be able to answer 5 C’s about the paper:
    • Category
    • Context (What papers are related? What bases are used to analyze the problem?)
    • Correctness (Are the assumptions valid?)
    • Contributions of the paper
    • Clarity (Is the paper well-written?)

Second Pass (1 hour):

  • Read the paper more carefully, while ignoring details like proofs
  • Jot down points, make comments in the margins
  • Look carefully at all figures, especially graphs
  • Mark unread references for further reading (for background information).
  • Summarize main themes of the paper to someone else.
  • You mightn’t understand the paper completel. Jot down the points you don’t understand, and why.
  • Now, either
    • Decide not to read the paper
    • Return later to the paper after reading background material
    • Or persevere on to the third pass

Third Pass (4-5 hours):

  • You need to virtually reimplement the paper. Recreate the paper, its reasonings
  • Compare your recreation with the original
  • Think of how you would present the ideas, and compare with how the ideas are presented.
  • Here, you also jot down your ideas for future work
  • Reconstruct the entire structure of the paper from memory.
  • Now you should be able to identify the strong and weak points of the paper,  the implicit assumptions and the issues there might be with experimental or analytical techniques, as well as missing citational information.

That’s all.

Additionally, I think as a form of accountability (which I so need at the moment), I will blog every single paper I read, in accordance with the above structure.

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About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.

Posted on January 4, 2011, in for novices and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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