Sifting Through the SCIENCE in Scientific Literature

Picture By Oleksiy Mark,

From James Seng, Program Director.

What to when diving into the wealth the pool of scientific knowledge available on the internet:

Step 1: “Skim the article. This should only take you a few minutes. You are not trying to comprehend the entire article at this point, but just get a basic overview. Pay attention to the structure of the article, headings, and figures.” Start with the abstract and the discussion. Those sections should get you a clear idea of the aims and outcomes of the study. Don’t get bogged down in the methods. If you choose the article, read more.

Step 2: “Grasp the vocabulary. Begin to go through the article and highlight words and phrases you do not understand.  Free, online medical and scientific dictionaries available through Library databases as well as on the open web are listed below.”

Step 3: Identify the main points and present the information in your own words

Here is the standard layout of a scientific article:

  • “The abstract gives a quick overview of the article. It will usually contain four pieces of information: purpose or rationale of study (why they did it); methodology (how they did it); results (what they found); conclusion (what it means). Begin by reading the abstract to make sure this is what you are looking for and that it will be worth your time and effort.
  • The introduction gives background information about the topic and sets out specific questions to be addressed by the authors. You can skim through the introduction if you are already familiar with the paper’s topic.
  • The methods section gives technical details of how the experiments were carried out and serves as a “how-to” manual if you wanted to replicate the same experiments as the authors. This is another section you may want to only skim unless you wish to identify the methods used by the researchers or if you intend to replicate the research yourself.
  • The results are the meat of the scientific article and contain all of the data from the experiments. You should spend time looking at all the graphs, pictures, and tables as these figures will contain most of the data.
  • Lastly, the discussion is the authors’ opportunity to give their opinions. Keep in mind that the discussions are the authors’ interpretations and not necessarily facts. It is still a good place for you to get ideas about what kind of research questions are still unanswered in the field and what types of questions you might want your own research project to tackle. (See the Future Research Section of the Research Process for more information).”

Check out what a scientist has to say on the matter:

“I start by reading the abstract. Then, I skim the introduction and flip through the article to look at the figures. I try to identify the most prominent one or two figures, and I really make sure I understand what’s going on in them. Then, I read the conclusion/summary. Only when I have done that will I go back into the technical details to clarify any questions I might have.” Jesse Shanahan, master’s candidate in astronomy at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut” from

Staying informed in the scientific world is a habit that we as personal trainers have to develop. Some of you may even decide to perform studies of your own own day. The sky’s the limit. Staying up to date can also be as easy as following a youtuber that reviews scientific literature. One of my favorite people for that is Jeff Nippard. You can find him here: