The Department of Psychology
Reading the Journal Report
David J. Weiss
Reading a scientific article calls for a different mindset than ordinary reading of newspaper articles or fiction. The reader should be thinking about the details of the study, with an eye toward whether the authorÂ’s claims are supported by the evidence offered.
It is a good idea to prepare answers to the following questions whenever you read an article:
1. What is the main claim the author makes? What is the "take-home message"? (This should be made explicit in the abstract.)
2. In the introduction, what are the main ideas conveyed within the literature review? Can you think of studies that should have been cited, but werenÂ’t, perhaps because they donÂ’t fit with the authorÂ’s line of thinking?
3. Are the subjects chosen appropriate to the questions being explored? What incentives were provided? Was the sampling procedure biased? How would you have obtained a better sample? If you were a potential subject, would you have agreed to participate?
4. Look carefully at the task required of the subject. Could you have done what was asked within the described constraints (time, surroundings, fellow subjects, privacy)? Might you have adopted an alternative strategy not envisioned by the researcher? Would the researcher have been able to tell?
5. Focus on the dependent variable. Is the scoring system appropriate? Do you agree with the way the author chose to measure the success of the hypotheses presented? You may not be able to follow the statistical procedures, but you should be able to grasp the basic outcome as presented in tables and especially in graphs.
6. How does the outcome given by the data accord with the hypotheses? If the data are complicated, there will sometimes be discrepancies in how different observers summarize the outcome.
7. What are the implications of the results? Think about this not just in terms of where the author is leading you, but where you might go next if you had done the study. Are there practical consequences of the results, in terms that a non-psychologist could appreciate?
8. Would a different experiment have made the point more effectively? If you were interested in the question the author posed, can you, with the benefit of hindsight, plan a better study?