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The Art of Reading a Technical Paper

Aarthi Ramakrishnan
2 min read
The Art of Reading a Technical Paper

I came across an interesting Bioinformatics paper recently and wanted to read and understand it in its entirety. Reading the paper seemed intimidating at first, as the technical jargon that was being used seemed quite overwhelming. But reading a paper is not as difficult as it may first seem. Following are the steps I followed to successfully gather the main ideas of the paper -

  1. Make sure you have chosen the right paper to read. Read the abstract and ask yourself these questions - Does the topic interest you? Does the paper lie within your domain of expertise? Do you see yourself applying the things you learn from the paper to your work at least a little?
  2. Read the paper completely, just to get a feel of the language and tone of the paper. Browse through the figures too.
  3. Take a 30 min break and ponder over some of the things you just read.
  4. Come back and read the paper again! But this time, highlight the sentences that pop out to you. While you highlight, pay attention to the thoughts in your head. Do you have any specific opinion on the highlight you just made? Jot that down next to the highlight.
  5. By now, you would have obtained a decent idea on what the paper is all about. You would also have become aware of the pros and cons of the methods used in the study, and formed opinions on how the authors could have done a better job at certain aspects. Capture your thoughts on a notes app.
  6. Finally, read just your highlights you made during your second reading and collect the notes you made on those highlights onto your notes app. Keep adding other thoughts to your notes app, no matter how small or trivial it may seem.  
  7. You are done! Finally, edit the text on your notes app and format them in a more readable manner. This will help you easily reference it at a later time point. Read your notes one final time. You now have a good understanding of what the paper is all about.

Reading technical papers is a very rewarding endeavor, as it helps generate your own ideas for various projects you may be working on. It is vital to your career progression. So don't feel intimidated about reading a technical paper. Just give it a go without over-thinking the process. Reading it would surely be rewarding and make you more skilled at reading future papers with more ease.


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