Summaries should provide answers to tDr. Krishna Sivalingam
hese questions about the paper:
in a paper summary, if you want to use text from the original source, you
must use quotation marks (and a citation, if it isn't obvious what the
source is). Excessive use of quotes usually indicates that you didn't really
understand the ideas well enough to express them in your own words (and makes
the paper flow poorly).
- What is the specific problem that the work is intended to address?
- What is the main claim of the authors? (i.e., what are they trying to do?)
- What evidence do the authors give to support their claim?
Does the evidence support their claim adequately?
- Does the work appear to be original and significant?
- Do the authors place their work in the context of related work? Ideally,
they should cite relevant literature and should explain why their work
represents an original and significant contribution.
- What assumptions or limitations does the work have?
- What would be the logical next steps for the research?
- What are your remaining open questions about the work after reading the
- What are the most important citations in the paper to follow up on if
you were to read further on this topic? Why?
Strategies for Reading PapersIf you've come across a paper in the
course of your explorations, you need to first decide if it's relevant.
(Obviously, if it's an assigned paper, you may skip this step!)
Once you've decided (or been
told) to read the paper, don't just tackle the paper head-on. Approach it
- Decide from the title and context if it might be relevant.
- Read the abstract to decide if it actually is relevant, then read through
the introduction quickly to make sure.
When you're doing
your own literature survey, or reading for your own research, it's a good idea
to keep a list of citations that might be worth tracking down, with at least
enough bibliographic information to find the actual paper later on. I also keep
a BibTeX file with all of the papers I've read. Ideally, this BibTeX file would
be annotated with a short summary of each paper. (For this class, since you have
to do an annotated bibliography, and later a literature survey, keeping these
summaries as you go along is highly recommended!!)
- First skim the whole paper once to get a feeling for what it's
about. Skip anything dense or technical. Glance at the figures and
- Read through the whole paper, but don't let yourself get stuck. If
you have questions, don't struggle to figure them out; instead, jot a note in
the margin and keep going. Put stars next to important points and/or
underline key ideas. Don't get carried away with the underlining, or it
won't be helpful when you want to look back over the paper.
- Go back and work through the details of any (important) equations, proofs,
algorithms, etc. that you skipped over.
- If you're going to present the paper at a lab meeting or class, or if it's
very relevant to your own research, you may need to spend more time with the
paper to fully understand it. You may also need to look up citations of
work (by the authors or by others) on which this paper builds. It's
important, though, to learn which papers are critically important and which
are less so -- it would be entirely possible to spend the next year (or two or
three or four) doing nothing but reading, and still not have read all
of the papers that you "ought" to. Spend your time wisely, and keep track of
your reading so you don't have to re-read everything next year.
- Even for papers that you don't need to turn in a research summary on,
I advise always writing a short summary (one or two paragraphs, or
a short list of bulleted points) of the paper in your research journal. When
I'm reviewing a paper, or reading it seriously, I try to make thorough enough
marginal notes that I can extract a summary/review directly from these notes.
I'll also often make summary notes ("great idea but poorly executed,"
"thorough results but uninteresting work") on the first page.
- Did I mention that you should have a research journal!?
Preferably this would be a bound composition book, not a bunch of scraps of
paper or looseleaf. I went through six composition books in grad school, and
I still occasionally look back at them.
Some Useful Linkshttp://www.biochem.arizona.edu/classes/bioc568/papers.htm
How to Read a Scientific Paper, John W. Little and Roy Parker,
University of Arizona.
Oriented towards biology papers, so not everything is
relevant, but section 4, "Evaluating a Paper," has some particularly helpful
Armando's Paper Writing and Presentations Page, Armando Fox, Stanford
Mostly on writing and presenting papers, but also talks about
CS 555: How to Survive!, John Brewer, ISI.
How to Read a Scientific Research Paper: A Four-Step Guide, Joceline
Boucher, Maine Maritime Academy.
(Modified with permission from Ann McNeal,
School of Natural Science, Hampshire College.)