How to Review Scientific Articles

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Reading scientific articles with a critical eye requires specialized skills and techniques. This formal process may be learned with practice. Each scientific journal has printed standards and protocols that must be followed. Articles are sent to a review board made up of specialists in the field. The board blind reviews the piece to evaluate its research methods, its conclusions, and the support presented for its findings. Evaluation of printed journal articles follows a format much like the publishing review.

  • Pencil and paper
  • Highlighters (two or three different colors)
  • Computer with Internet connection

1 Make a duplicate

Make a duplicate of the scientific article or print a copy of the PDF download. This will assist you in evaluating the article by allowing you to write and make notes next to key passages and statements.

2 Skim the article

Skim the article for any names and the affiliations listed for these persons. As the names are identified, circle the items in pencil.

3 The Internet

Use the Internet to research the background of the individuals responsible for writing the article and those quoted as experts in the content. Print out the qualifications for these individuals. Search the organizations listed in the article. This background information may also be found in libraries by searching print or online editions of “Who’s Who” or other biographical indexes.

4 Are generally printed in paragraph form

Abstracts are generally printed in paragraph form directly before the article text. Read the article abstract or summary. Using the paper, rewrite the thesis or main idea of the article from the abstract statement. Use one color highlighter to mark any supporting material stated in the abstract.

5 Skim the article-2

Skim the article to determine the organization used by the authors to prove the thesis. This may include cause/effect, effect/cause, problem/solution, proposition-to-proof, comparisons, or another format that is stated in the first or second paragraph. Use a second color highlighter to mark the organizational steps in the process. Consider the logical organization of the structure used.

6 Evaluate the proofs

Evaluate the proofs, evidence, and examples used by the author to support the arguments and statements. Look for the logic used to make statements and alternative reasons for the conclusions. Use a third color highlighter to mark anything that is illogical or lacks support.

7 Examine the secondary support

Examine the secondary support used by the author to back up the reasoning used to support the thesis. Make sure it is recent and published by scholarly presses. Use the documentation found in Step 1 to confirm that the authors of the secondary sources have the qualifications necessary to make the statements. Use a fourth color highlighter to mark any questionable issues.

8 Use an online article database

Use an online article database in the subject field to search for other articles on the same topic. Skim the other titles to determine where the review article fits in the field. Determine whether the article conforms to mainstream views or is unique.

9 Write up the findings

Write up the findings from the analysis above using a style sheet. Science fields usually use the Council of Science Editors Style Guide. Journals usually limit the number of words, so be sure to research the possible places for publication for publication requirements. If the review is written for a course, consult the syllabus or assignment statement for page or word limit.

  • Read the article once for an overview and then read it again to isolate each of the elements in Steps 5 to 7.

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.