Understanding Evolution: your one-stop source for information on evolution
Resource library Teaching materials Evolution 101 Support this project

Teaching materials : Undergraduate teachers' lounge : Journal Club :
Dissecting a scientific paper about evolutionary biology III

You've reviewed several papers with help from a guide. Now it's time to dissect a paper on your own. Select a paper (or access the assigned paper) and use the outline below to dissect it (or download the outline as a PDF or Word document).


  • Based on the title, what is the main point being made by the paper? In one to three sentences, explain what you think the title means.


  • Was this research performed by one or a few individuals, or was the research a broad, collaborative effort across several institutions?

  • What sort of topics do the first and last authors study? Does this give you any insight into the topic of the paper?


  • Try to translate the abstract into your own words line by line.


  • Are there keywords or ideas that you don't understand? If so, look them up. Would reviewing any of the references help you understand those unfamiliar concepts?

  • What questions is this study trying to answer? What is the current understanding of these topics?

  • Why are the authors addressing the questions that they are?

  • Is there a scientific debate or controversy that this study will help address? If so, what is it?

  • Try to phrase the main idea being tested in the study as a hypothesis.

Materials and methods

  • Summarize the approach that the study takes to answering the main question.

  • Does the study involve an experiment, modeling, some other sort of testing, or a combination of approaches?

  • Are there any aspects of the study's method that you do not understand? If so, what are they?


  • What are the main findings of this study?

  • Are there any results presented here that you do not understand? If so, what are they?


  • What interpretations described in the Results section are supported by each table?

  • Do any of the tables include particularly important results? If so, what are they?


  • Are any of the figures designed to communicate details of the study design, as opposed to results? If so, which ones?

  • What interpretations described in the Results section are supported by each figure?

  • Do any of the figures include particularly important results? If so, what are they?

Discussion and conclusion

  • What are the most important findings of this study? What ideas are supported or contradicted by these findings?

  • Why are these findings important to the study of evolution or biology in general (i.e., outside the context of this particular study)?

  • Were any of the study’s findings surprising or hard to explain? If so, what were they, and why were they surprising?

  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of the study's design?

  • What sort of additional studies would help address the weaknesses of this study?

  • What questions about the topic of this paper remain to be answered?

Supporting information

  • What is included in the supporting information — additional details of the study methods, more detailed results, or something else?

  • Did you examine any of the supporting information?


  • Does the Acknowledgements section of this paper raise any red flags or concerns for you?


Dissecting a
scientific paper

page 3 of 3

Teachers' lounges 9-12 Undergrad 6-8 3-5 K-2

All-level resources
Guide to Evo 101

Conceptual framework

Teaching resource database

Image library

Dealing with objections to evolution

Correcting misconceptions

Alignment with science standards

Suggest a lesson or resource for Understanding Evolution