Step 1: Understanding the Scientific Context of the Research

What did the researchers know before they did the research reported in your article?

On what prior observations was this research based?

What was and wasn't known at the time?

Research projects can take years from initiation to publication, so a review article published approximately five years before your article will provide a good description of its intellectual context. To learn about that context:

  1. Read the introduction of your article. It should include a summary of the intellectual context, as the authors understood it, with references to relevant research and review articles.
  2. Find a review article on your topic that was published approximately 5 years earlier than the research article you are analyzing, preferably by someone other than an author of your paper. Your article may cite such a review. If not, use PubMed to find one by doing a subject search, restricted to review articles.

Use the key words listed underneath the abstract/ summary of your article to construct this search. If your search criteria are appropriate, you should retrieve your assigned article. The information provided by the earlier review will supplement that provided in the Introduction of your article, helping you to explain the research context in your Report.

Were many laboratories pursuing related research when the reported work was done?

Did they share the perspective presented by the authors of your article?

Often many labs work on the same (or related) questions. This helps to ensure that reliable answers are obtained ... not answers due to unidentified conditions particular to one lab. People working in different labs often have different ideas, making the research more creative. Each lab provides a piece of a bigger a well as constructive criticism of the other's work!

  1. To find related research articles by other authors, go back to your article's introduction and find the authors' citations for work that immediately preceded theirs.
  2. Use PubMed to do a subject search, limited to the period 5 to 10 years before your article was published.
  3. Scan issues of the same journal (or related journals) published around the same time. If many labs are studying the same topic, you may find related articles in this way.
  4. Search Trellis for books on your topic. Sometimes conference presentations, published as books, give more information about ideas prevalent at a particular time than do research or even review articles.

Did you find other articles on the same topic? Peruse some to see whether they present very different perspectives. Explain the outcome of your analysis in your Report.

What (major) question did the researchers ask?

What hypothesis did they test?

Why did they do this research?

Before examining the results obtained by your authors, you must clearly understand the question they asked (or the hypothesis they posed), and their reasons for asking it. This information should be stated in the introduction of the research article – and it is often restated in the discussion/conclusions. It is essential to distinguish between the technical objective of a particular experiment (e.g. to determine the nucleotide base sequence of a particular gene) and the broader goal of the research (e.g. to determine the physiological function of the protein encoded in the gene, or define its mechanism). Your Report will include a statement of the question asked/hypothesis tested by your researchers.