Appendix 5: Reading a Scientific Paper

Reading papers takes practice and a development of scientific literacy, so don’t be discouraged if this feels really challenging – it should feel that way. Here are some questions to consider as you read:

  • What was the rationale and how did the author(s) come to it?
  • What did the author(s) do in this paper? Try to provide a succinct summary of the approach.
  • How do the techniques work?
  • What were the results? Nitty-gritty patterns in the data and whether they support the hypothesis.
  • Why do the results matter? What is their broader application?
  • How might you adapt their research?
  • What was most interesting and why? What did you learn?
  • What was the main idea – or the big picture finding?
  • What unanswered questions do you have about the paper? These can be about the paper, or these can be new questions inspired by the paper.

Take notes as you read the paper and try to form answers to most of these questions. You can also write down other thoughts or questions that arise as you are reading the paper. If there are terms you are unfamiliar with, try to find a definition of them if you can. Bring these notes with you to the group discussion.

Example Reading Guide

Here is an example reading guide for a paper by Meissen et al., 2020[1]. Many of the questions can be easily repurposed for alternative paper readings.


  • What is the research problem they identified?
  • Where do they propose implementing a solution to this research problem? Why do they propose implementing it in this particular location?
  • What is the research gap they are addressing?
  • What are their ideas for addressing this research gap?
  • What do they test specifically?


  • Provide a short description of their research methodology.
  • How did they assess ecosystem services and was their assessment justified? Why or why not?


  • What were their main findings?
  • Look at each figure and summarize the information communicated by that figure. Do this for figures 1-4.


  • What was the primary finding they identified in the discussion section? What were some of the results they highlighted that supported this finding?
  • What are some future research directions they identify?
  • What is the broader scope of their research? Consider what the implications of their research are for informing future conservation investments.
  • What questions or critiques do you have for this paper?

  1. Meissen, JC et al. 2020. Seed mix design and first year management influence multifunctionality and cost-effectiveness in prairie reconstruction. Restoration Ecology. 28(4):807-816.


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Experiences in Biodiversity Research: A Field Course Copyright © 2024 by Thea B. Gessler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.