Skip to Main Content


Find articles, books, and learning opportunities in physics and astronomy

Deep reading

Reading academic articles can be challenging. It is okay if you don't understand everything on the first try, but it does mean that you will have to pass over a paper more than once. Here are a few steps to take to become familiar with the content.

  1. Pre-reading

    • Investigate the source (journal or publisher). *See the SIFT method below for tips.
    • Get acquainted with the structure of the article.
      • Academic papers often follow this sequence: Abstract, Introduction/background, Methods, Results, Discussion/Conclusion.
      • Review articles that summarize literature on a topic up to the time of writing do not follow the standard format. They are usually organized with topic headings.
      • The different document types covered by Web of Science may give you an idea of what to expect.
  2. Scanning the paper

    • Look up unfamiliar terms.
    • Check on facts to understand background information.
  3. Marking-up the paper

    • Highlight keywords and main ideas.
    • Note results that are relevant to your research.
    • Mark references that would be useful to look up later.
  4. Following-up

    • Trace claims and locate interesting references.
    • Find citing papers (more recent papers that cite it). This is easy to do by pasting the title of the paper in Google Scholar.

SIFT method

False and misleading information is rampant online, how can you get better at sorting truth from fiction? At applying your attention to the things that matter? At amplifying better treatments of issues, and avoiding clickbait?

The SIFT method gives you four simple moves to help you determine if a source found online is credible.

The moves are:

  1. Stop - When you start to read or engage with a new source, stop and ask yourself if the source of the information (website, publisher, content creator, etc) is credible (why this is important).
  2. Investigate the source - Consider the credentials and expertise of the person making claims, consider whether or not they have an agenda, what their source of funding is, etc (how fact checkers do this).
  3. Find better coverage - Try to understand the history or context of a claim by finding coverage from a variety of trusted sources (looking for trusted sources).
  4. Trace claims, quotes and media back to the original - Whenever possible, it is best to go back to the original source to verify the context and see if it was accurately presented (tips on how to do this). 

Use trusted fact-checking sites like Snopes, AFP Fact Check, and SciCheck

Take the SIFT Starter Course for more details and tips on how to navigate these four moves.


Profile Photo
April Colosimo
Contact: Website

McGill LibraryQuestions? Ask us!
Privacy notice