Skills Earth Sciences

The third pass

The third pass helps you fully understand a paper, and is especially important for reviewers. Beginners would need 4-5 hours to run though the steps fully, while experienced readers will only need about an hour (see: How to read a paper). The more papers you read, the faster this will go. The aim of this stage is virtually re-implementing the article. In other words: try using the same base-line results and logic as the authors, and see if you reach the same arguments and conclusions. Re-create the work, but with less sweat and tears. Comparing your reasoning with that of the author will make it easier to spot hidden failings and assumptions, but also point out the novelties/sparkly new ideas. Pay great attention to detail during this pass.

  1. Begin with the results. How do they impact/influence your research? What are the direct consequences of the results in the article you’re reading, and are they all mentioned in the paper?
  2. Read the discussion. Identify and challenge every assumption. How would you present a particular idea? This link between proof and presentation is a useful tool to practice for your own writing.
  3. Keep a list of ideas for future work.

At the end of this section you should be able to recreate the entire structure of the paper from memory. Sparring with a research partner or colleague throughout this pass helps. Try to walk them through the steps. Identify the paper’s strengths and weaknesses; e.g. implicit assumptions, missing citations to relevant work, and potential issues with experimental or analytical techniques (see: How to read a paper).