Infographics – How to read a paper?


The present infographic is based on the three-pass method from S. Keshav [1] and my personal approach to it. The paper images are from Lijun Sun [2], the images from the trees created by Alice Design and ruliani from the Noun Project, Sherlock Holmes from Matthew Davis from the Noun Project, and the girl from Creative Stall obtained and modified from the Noun Project [3].

During your first pass through a paper, you should read title, abstract, introduction, section and sub-section headings and conclusions and glance over the references.  After that, you should have a general idea of what the paper is about, and you can decide if you want to read it completely or leave it aside.

During the second pass, you should focus on the images of the paper and interpret the graph data by yourself, going to the methods section whenever you need more information about what you are looking at. After that, you should be able to summarize the main ideas, with supporting the evidence, to someone else.

During the third pass, you should imagine how would you convey the same research to others and compare your ideas to the ones in the paper. This will help you to understand and challenge the experimental design, identify the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses, and come up with follow-up ideas for new experiments.

As some extra suggestions, I would like to encourage you to:

  • Consider every necessary control to make sure that your conclusions are valid.
  • Mark unknown relevant references for future reading.
  • Check the supplementary material when provided.
  • Be active! Don’t hesitate to write notes and questions in the margins if you feel like it.

Author: Sophia B. Soler
(Bartok lab, Institute for Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology)


[1] S. Keshav. David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science, University of Waterloo, Canada.
[2] Sun L, Wu J, Du F, Chen X, Chen ZJ. Cyclic GMP-AMP synthase is a cytosolic DNA sensor that activates the type I interferon pathway. Science. 2013;339(6121):786-791. doi:10.1126/science.1232458


I thank the ImmunoSensation2 Cluster of Excellence for the grant that allowed me to take the advanced R online course, and my advisor, Dr Med Eva Bartok, for her corrections on the text.