Reading Research Papers

Reading research papers effectively is challenging. It requires a different focus and technique than reading for typical coursework. Your goal when reading a scientific paper is to understand the scientific contributions that the author is making, which may require reading over the paper several times. Expect to spend several hours reading a paper (this does become easier over time).

Merely understanding the paper, however, isn’t enough for this class. You will also need to analyze the contributions made in the paper. This often means asking (and attempting to answer) questions as you read.

Some examples include:

  • What are the contributions of this work? How novel or significant are they?
  • How does the paper relate to other papers you’ve read?
  • What problem did the authors solve? How well did they solve it? What are the limitations of the presented solution? Is there some simple solution that the authors may have overlooked?
  • Are the assumptions that motivate this work sound and reasonable?
  • What questions are you left with? Is anything unclear?

Michael Mitzenmacher has some good advice and tips on what to ask yourself when reading papers, which you may find useful!

William Griswold has prepared a form of good questions to ask yourself which you may find helpful while reading.