Botany 431 - Physiological Plant Ecology

Reading and Evaluating Scientific Papers

Most of you have already been asked to conduct literature searches and to seek information on a particular subject to prepare term papers, lab reports and seminars. While in many instances you merely had to pull out certain bits of information from these sources, you might not have had the opportunity to read scientific papers in their entirety and to provide a critique of the work that is reported. This is most likely because you have not been asked to act as an authority in the field or that the courses you have taken did not require you to do so. Even though becoming an authority in a specific field can take many years, there are certain criteria that a non-expert can use in order to determine whether or not a piece of work is of good quality and even in some cases to pass judgment on the contribution of the work.

It is the intention of this exercise to get you to think about the method that you employ in reading and understanding a scientific paper and possibly providing a critique of the work. The types of questions you might think about including might start with: Which section of a paper do you spend the most time on? Why? Does it depend on the type of information that is provided in the paper and your knowledge of the area?


Part 1

In small groups, discuss what you think are the most important criteria for each section of a scientific paper (ie. Abstract, Introduction, Methods and Materials, Results and Discussion). What type of information do you want or expect to find in those sections? Which critical questions would you expect to be answered? These questions can often be asked more than once for a paper, possibly repeating them for each experiment described by the authors.

Come up with a list of criteria as a group and be prepared to explain or elaborate on these.

Once you have finalized your list, prepare to discuss and possibly defend the items on your list with the other groups in the class.

Sara will then synthesize a list of criteria which we will use in evaluating a paper.

Part 2

Read the assigned paper:

Chlorophyll and light gradients in sun and shade leaves of Spinacia oleracea; Cui.M.; Vogelman,T.C.; Smith,W.K. Plant Cell Environ 14:493-500(1991).

Use the established criteria to evaluate the paper.

Take note of your observations in the form of a short report and be prepared to share your observations and to discuss the paper with your classmates at your next meeting.

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