Are you what many would regard ‘a layman’ when it comes to academics? No science background, never read an academic paper? This blog section is my attempt to shortly summarize in simple, down-to-earth terms, *what* research from specific, real papers, are about. I’m not constraining to physics and maths either, but any academic paper I find particularly interesting and worth sharing.
Perhaps however, you’re also interested in how you might get started at reading these papers themselves? I personally find it almost obscene that the majority of modern human knowledge is not only behind a paywall of science journal sites, but also totally incoherent to the untrained reader.
So here’s my quick guide to how a layman might begin to glean a bit of unfiltered, unbiased knowledge for themselves.
#Step 1: Finding and Searching
So perhaps you hear in a news piece, something along the lines of “In a study by the University of [some place], it was found that [x] [y] and [z]…and this is our interpretation and a distorted understanding of the research to help sell our product!”
Perhaps you’d like to check it out for yourself? The best and most accessible engine to use is **Google Scholar**. There’s no link up where you click “images” or “news” on a Google search, instead you have to type in **scholar.google.com**. Then simply type the title of the paper, keywords and/or authors to find the paper(s) you’re looking for.
#Step 2: Getting access
Unfortunately, many papers are hidden behind paywalls. If you happen to be at university (may work for many high schools too), then being connected to the university network will give you free access to any publication. Barring that, if the paper you’re trying to get is in physics, mathematics or computer science, then it’ll be quite likely on [arxiv]. Otherwise, you may only need to read the abstract anyway.
If you *really* want to get the full paper and it’s hidden behind a paywall, you can also simply email the authors and asking for their pre-print (the draft before publishing). This works 9/10 times.
#Step 3: Reading the abstract
The “abstract” of an academic paper gives you a nice, short and sweet summary of what the paper is about in a single paragraph. Often, these will only focus on the results and conclusions…which is probably what you care about anyway. If you’re interested as to the methods, analysis or anything else other than the results, then you will need to have access to the whole paper.
#Step 4: Reading the paper
There’s no doubt about it – reading academic papers is *hard*. If you want to dive into the literature itself, you must be willing to dedicate your fullest and utmost attention for a while. This doesn’t mean you have to read everything; some parts if not most, will simply be unintelligible without prior training in the field. The introduction, and perhaps first paragraph of other sections, are your best bets for gleaning a bit of understanding for yourself.
#Step 5: Find and read related papers
You’re not done yet! If you want to be comprehensive like a true academic, then you also need to follow up and repeat this process (if at least to Step 3) with other related papers on the same topic. Luckily, the paper you’ve already found should have a list of references at the end. You can continue on your scholarly journey by copy pasting the title of a referenced paper into Google Scholar, or clicking a DOI (digital object indicator) link if the reference has one.