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BIO 201 (Ortiz): Evaluating & Reading Information

Questions to ask about your sources:

You should be able to answer these questions as your read. (Note: These are broken up by section and are in the order of how we suggest you read the sources (which isn't start to finish!).


  • Is this relevant to my research? How/how not?
  • What do I know about the research from the abstract. What questions do I have?


  • Why did the authors do this study?
  • What problem is the study trying to solve?
  • How is this research unique?
  • How is this research related to my project?
  • What other research exists in relation to this topic?

Discussion / Conclusion

  • What did the researchers conclude? Why?
  • Are there any weaknesses in the authors' analysis and conclusions? What are they?
  • Are the findings unique and supported by other work in the field?
  • Given the results of this research, what other research could be conducted next to further explore this topic?


  • Which cited articles should I read to further my understanding of this topic?
  • What other authors are conducting significant research in this field?


  • How was this research conducted?
  • What was the sample size? Is it representative of the larger population?
  • How could I repeat the authors' work? Would I need more information to conduct the experiments and analysis myself?


  • What data did the study produce?
  • Do the figures and tables accurately present the same data/results discussed in the text? Do you understand them?
  • Are all the results presented factually and free of bias?
  • What major factors could affect the results?
  • Given the results presented, what conclusion can you draw from the data?

This list adapted from University of New Mexico's Biology 203L: Ecology and Evolution Guide


How to read these primary sources:


Below you'll find a basic notes format for use when reading academic/scientific articles. Try it out, take good notes, and it will save you time in the end.  

Don't be intimidated!

Good Writing:

  • Is clear and easily understood. 
  • Is written with the intended audience in mind.
  • Honestly interprets other people's ideas (and cites them!)

Bad Writing

  • Obscures ideas and confuses readers.
  • Is either too casual "Sup Dr. O, Im here to tell you about how..." or full of jargon/unnecessarily fancy words "Hence, the individuals engaged in this process (which is to say: experiment) first sought assistance in crafting a solution of the correct PH." 
  • Is poorly organized and still had that 'first draft' feel.

Academic writing:

  • Can have some of the qualities of bad writing but still be good. 
  • Assumes pre-existing expertise of the reader. 
  • Is part of an ongoing conversation (which is why it can be so confusing to jump into it!)