How to Read Faster Long Academic Articles(And Get the Most of Them)



Senior editor

Parul Saxena

Chief editor

Last updated: March 4, 2021

Being a college undergraduate or a high school student, you definitely have to deal with a lot of scientific literature. Undoubtedly, you sometimes have the feeling of frustration while reading certain academic articles or journals. In case you have to cope with writing a literature review in some field, the task might become really challenging as you face the necessity to work with multiple scientific sources.

4 Important Tips for How to Read Faster Long Articles

1. The two major types of scientific articles

Scientific articles fall under two main heads – primary research and review. The first type includes scientific conclusions along with original data of the experiments run. They reveal methods and certain research work details. Such articles can become a perfect illustration of visual data representation, while reviews mostly cite primary research papers when providing statistics or figures.

Reviews offer a general overview of a scientific field or a problem and provide summarized material and conclusions of multiple studies. As a rule, such articles enclose more background info. That’s why the reader, if confused, can always get back to make certain points clear for himself. To receive a well-rounded field outlook it makes sense to study several reviews of different authors. That way you can make your own conclusions drawing from different viewpoints. Still, you need to learn how to read research papers in order to get the most out of them.

2. The fast way of reading journal articles

Though reading scientific works become easier with experience, there are certain tricks, which may save you unnecessary trouble. The majority of papers have a five-part structure, which gives an organized research description to the readers. It includes the following sections:

  • Introduction: describing the purpose of the study, its objectives and aims;
  • Background section: providing an explanation of the gap in knowledge that the research answers;
  • Methods: unfolding research design, subject selection, data acquisition and analysis plan;
  • Results with various tables and graphs;
  • General discussion of the research findings.

Each section may vary depending on the journal, field of study, and the intent of the work, but as a rule, the overall five-part structure remains the same.

To make the best use of the article you should first read the Title, the Abstract and the Background section. Then you can glance through the Methods section, paying attention to data contained in it. After that proceed to the Results, study charts and tables there. In case you fail to comprehend some facts there, read the beginning of the Discussion as it often summarizes results and provides implications of the research. Come back again and make everything clear in the Methods and Results.

Finally, you can read the entire work and find out “what”, “who”, “when”, “where”, “how”, and “why”. If it’s possible to fill in the gaps, which you failed to realize in the beginning.

3. A “three-pass” method of reading scientific articles useful for literature reviews creating

The three-pass approach, outlined by Keshav, advises you to go through 3 passes while studying the article for some purpose. The first time you only get a general idea, the second pass helps you to grasp the content while the third provides you with the opportunity to comprehend the work in depth. Each reader can decide for himself how profound his study will be.

Let’s go over the first pass in more detail. It actually involves getting an overall view of the research to determine how valuable or exciting it is. At the same time scanning the article for 5 or 10 minutes you can realize the level of expertise sufficient to comprehend it. While skimming through the scientific work try to find the answers to the 5 C’s – Category, Context, Correctness, Contributions, Clarity. It means here you should understand what kind of article it is, which other works it is related to, how it contributes to the science at present, whether the insights are valid, and if it’s well-written and clear.

Proceeding to the second pass, dig deeper into the article, but still omit going into too much detail. Pay attention only to the key points. On doing that you have to be able to provide a short summary of the study, referring to the key aspects and supporting data.

The final pass is for the readers who want or need to get the full understanding of the work content. Here, it’s essential to make an attempt at re-creating the work of the researchers and their assumptions. This stage requires enormous attention to the detail and may even reveal certain authors’ hidden failures.

It should also be mentioned that the 3-pass approach is helpful when preparing literature research. While you have to dig through the multiple articles, it will help in choosing the right ones for your work. You can also find the papers worth your attention going through the list of referenced articles of the latest research in the field. Pay attention to the most cited authors. They are usually the leading scientists in the area and you can find their works at their own sites or conferences’ websites. Use the first pass to find out whether the works are worth your attention.

4. Some more useful tips on scientific reading

Remember that confusion is not a threat, it’s always an opportunity and you can grow less ignorant studying the matter.

There are cases when you do not need to comprehend the depth, but superficial knowledge is enough. However, if there is really something important you failed to grasp and feel you need it, find some review articles or a textbook chapter to understand the necessary background before proceeding.

  • Never be afraid to ask various questions and talk to people in your community or even to the more experienced scientist.
  • Be patient, pay attention to the styles of writing, structuring of the publications and how the complex concepts are presented.
  • Keep some kind of bibliography file, where you can put down the short article outline, important points of it, possibly even some figures and additional data.
  • Read more often, it will help you develop your own algorithm how to get the most out of reading!
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