Student Notebook

Reading Scientific Research With a Careful Eye

When we read scientific psychology journals, we notice that many well-respected researchers often use commentaries and other rebuttals to address their work or to critique the work done by other researchers. Listed below are several tips for new researchers and aspiring scientific readers in the field.

What approach should students take when devising a commentary or rebuttal to other research?
When they pursue a literature review, and feel that a still-debatable research issue is open for further inquiry, they can read the commentaries or rebuttal articles by experts in that field of study.

How do students read an article or commentary and judge its impartiality?
Science is experimentation. Dictums, designs, flaws, weaknesses, and the like will always be a part of scientific papers. That said, students should figure out what the main subtopics in the research are and how the details in each of those categories are presented. For example, students need to be able to identify the hypothesis, what methods were used in the study design, how the selection of participants or subjects was conducted, and so forth. In the analysis phase, students need to learn how the data was gathered, what the rationale was for various statistical analysis, if there was any loss in data, and evaluate the discussion and summary sections for their conclusions and suggestions.

What should student researchers or scientific readers do when there are too many debates over a topic?
Researchers should not be disqualified for speaking out about their areas of expertise, however, when an issue gets flooded with too many debates, readers should break the article down into pieces and focus on one or two subtopics to address.

Where should researchers look for guidance?
We have to remember that science is about objectivity, clarity, and non-biased observations. What makes a researcher a careful investigator and the work respectable is something to be acknowledged, even if we don’t agree with the rationale of the research. Therefore, making assertions which have a basis in factual information are the only type of proof for which critical researchers may hold the study’s author liable. Critiquing other people’s work is an essential way to monitor the progress of a research field, and to help researchers tailor their research in ways which are beneficial to society.

How does this subjective approach affect a scholar-in-training?
Improvements made in the qualitative aspects of a research study is meant to make a body of knowledge more structured for the typical reader, a scholar in training, or a new researcher not interested in making changes to formats already established. The purpose of these changes is to highlight the importance of how a specific research topic research has contributed beneficially to both the academic and psychological communities. It is not meant to scrutinize anyone because their research did not address an individual’s opinion in that field of study. We must not begrudge research theories which differ from our own; only appraise the work in an educated manner.

Everyone involved in research must understand and respect other people’s work before dismissing a study as invaluable. We should not say why a research finding led to a dangerous result unless we are unaware of how that finding came about. For example, reading an author’s conclusions on what happens to a mouse in a study in neuroanatomy should not be judged as useless before understanding why the study was done. Science writing should be even-handed and non-judgmental.


  • Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. BioScience, 41, 248-250.

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