31 – M4 L3a 26 Interlude Pt 2 V2

Let’s talk about the structure. Do you remember grade school science fairs and learning about the scientific method? Well guess what, what you learned actually applies to the real world. Papers are actually structured with title, abstract, methods, results, conclusions, and discussion sections. Let’s start at the beginning. The very first thing that you’ll read is the paper’s title. You’ve probably picked out the paper because the title indicates that the topic has to do with something you care about. Sometimes, it has an important keyword. The second thing that you should pay attention to is the list of authors. Why does this matter? Well, it tells you something about the provenance of the ideas within. Usually, the first author is the main author, the person who did most of the work. But sometimes there are multiple main authors, indicated with asterisks. Usually, the last author is this person’s adviser. Typically, a more senior person in the field. The ideas in the paper maybe offshoots of this more senior person’s other ideas. So, they may be related to this person’s older papers. When there are only one or two authors, it could be that this person or people are already established in this field and they worked on this project on their own. Sometimes the list of authors is huge. This means that many teams of people typically in different places around the world had to cooperate to accomplish this work. Okay. The third thing you’ll read is the abstract. This is a short summary of the paper. Sometimes this is as far as you get. The abstract should communicate basically the question or problem the author tried to address, what the author did, the main important finding, and what they think their result means. That is how it addresses the original question or problem. If you read the abstract and the paper is about something different than what you thought it was, or doesn’t indicate that they found something meaningful, you can stop right there. Sometimes the abstract looks interesting, but doesn’t give you enough information. If you get past the abstract, you come to the introduction. In this part, the author is supposed to give some background about the field, and explain why they decided to study the topic of the paper. It’s supposed to help you follow the flow of ideas that led to the question, which in turn led to the idea of their paper. Sometimes the author does a great job at this, and you can really learn something about the field in this part. Sometimes the introduction is short and not very helpful. Often, in this section, the paper will cite other papers that may be useful to look at to. The next section is usually the methods section. Do you have to go through this line by line? No. In fact, you can skip this entire section. You might skip ahead to the results and conclusions to know what they actually found and come back to this section later. You might end up reading this, if you want to know that they were careful to control for some important confounding variable which you would care about if you were trying to decide for yourself, if their results are meaningful. Or you might read this, if you want to replicate what they did in whole or in part. Next, is usually the result section. This section should communicate the main measurements the authors made. Ideally, everything is well labeled and clear. But sometimes it’s not, and you have to skip back to the methods to find out what some measurement is. Finally, the conclusions or discussion should communicate why the results are important, what they mean, and how they relate to the original question or problem.

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