The tree-step-strategy for reading scientific articles

For the unaccustomed student, it is easy to drown in details when trying to read scientific text such as research articles. It ends in confusion. The student needs a clear strategy to stick to. Here, Kershav describes a useful three-step method to keep the reader’s head safely above the water’s surface.

The method is described in the two page long article How to read a paper (See the reference below). This model can be useful as a practical starting point when teaching students about reading strategy.

Briefly, the steps are roughly as follows:

  1. Skim. Read the abstract, headings and introduction, then jump to the conclusions. Read them. Take a few minutes to do this. Is this article relevant to me? If so, continue to step 2.
  2. More details. Especially figures, diagrams, illustrations. Make notes for interesting references. Allow this to take no more than an hour. If the article proves useful for you, continue to step 3.
  3. Put yourself in the authors shoes. Follow the authors’ own reasoning in detail. Start from their own assumptions and follow how they argue. Does it hold? Are there any gaps or areas of weakness?


Keshav, S. (2007). How to read a paper. Computer Communication Review, 37, 83–84.