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Read questions and answer the questions Lab: How to Read a Scientific Article Purpose of this lab: to learn the structure of a scientific article

Read questions and answer the questions

Lab: How to Read a Scientific Article

Purpose of this lab: to learn the structure of a scientific article and how to read it.

Today you will get to read an article about African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus). The African wild dog is a

canine which is a native species to sub-Saharan Africa. It is the largest wild canine in Africa, and the only

extant member of the genus Lycaon, which is distinguished from Canis by dentition highly specialized for

a hypercarnivorous diet, and by a lack of dewclaws. They are also highly social organisms, using a wide

variety of calls and chirps along with body language to communicate and hunt effectively together. As

an endangered species, African wild dogs are very well studied. However, recently we discovered

something new about them.

If you are unfamiliar with African wild dogs, watch this clip for a brief introduction:

BBC Planet Earth: African Wild Dogs

This is the discovery made in 2017:

Wild Dogs Sneeze to Vote

How did we discover this new piece of information about African Wild Dogs, and

how did the researchers communicate their findings to the rest of the world?

The answer to both of those questions can be found in the original research article – or the

peer-reviewed paper that was published and made public to the whole scientific community

(and anyone else interested).

Directions for this lab: look over the article titled “Sneeze to leave: African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) use

variable quorum thresholds facilitated by sneezes in collective decisions” by R. H. Walker et al. published

in 2017.

Now, answer the following questions.

1) Look up the term “peer-reviewed”. What does it mean?

2) How is a peer-reviewed article different from a news article?

3) Any time a species is mentioned in a scientific article for the first time, its unique two-word

name is also included, providing the genus and species. What is the genus and species (binomial

nomenclature) name for African wild dogs?

4) Every journal article lists the authors who found the data, did the analyses, and wrote up the

article. These authors are usually listed in a specific order, with the author who did the most

work (usually most of the analyses and writing) being listed first. This is the primary author. Who

is the primary author of this paper?

5) All scientific articles have basically the same parts in the same order. The parts are:

1. Abstract – this is a short (200 words or less) summary of the entire article.

2. Introduction or Background – this provides the context for why the data is important and

how it fits with what is already known about the subject.

3. Study Area (sometimes included in the Methods)– where the study was conducted and the

environmental conditions.

4. Methods – this details how exactly the scientists collected their data and how exactly they

analyzed their results.

5. Results (and sometimes Discussion) – this lists exactly what they found after analyzing their


6. Conclusion or Discussion – this explains what their results mean and how they connect to

the broader body of knowledge written in the introduction.

7. Management Implications (sometimes) – this section is only required by certain journals; it

explains how the results can be used to solve a problem or manage a species/situation.

8. Acknowledgments – this small section thanks any non-author for their help.

9. References or Citations – this is a list of all previous peer-reviewed articles this paper used

to explain the context of their paper.

Using this structure allows scientists to most clearly communicate exactly what they found, how

they found it, and why it matters. List the pages of the article that you can find each of the

sections listed above (if present; not all are there).

1. Abstract (Note: it is in the greyed out box)

2. Introduction/Background

3. Study Area

4. Methods

5. Results

6. Conclusion/Discussion

7. Management Implications

8. Acknowledgments

9. References/Citations

6) Read the Abstract. Rewrite the first sentence in your own words. Look up any words you don’t

know if you have to.

7) Read the Background section. The numbers in brackets represent specific citations that they list

in the References section. What is citation #10? Write out the whole citation, numbers and all.

8) What is the purpose of this study?

9) Read the Methods section.

a. How many packs of dogs did they collect data from?

b. Where is the study area?

c. Methods sections tend to be very dense with scientific lingo. The purpose of using these

highly scientific words is to be super precise, but it does make following the section

difficult if you are not a professional in this specific field. Look up a word you’ve never

seen before and write down its definition here:

10) Now, read the Results and Discussion section. Look up the phrase “statistically significant”. What

does that mean?

11) What is the main result that this study found? (Remember the video we watched)

12) Do the authors list any other canids (dog species) that use other sounds to communicate? List

two of them.

13) Read the Conclusion. What is their main conclusion and why is their conclusion important?

14) List one of the people or groups in the Acknowledgments.

15) Now, go back to the Abstract. Does the abstract actually cover all of the main points of this


Because abstracts are short summaries of the whole article, they are a really good way to

quickly understand the purpose of any scientific article. Another good way is to just read the

Introduction, Results, and Conclusion. Usually, the only people who need to understand the

Methods section are those who want to try to use the techniques mentioned in the article, or

those who are reviewing the article for possible errors or problems.

16) Skim through the References section. Pick an article that sounds interesting to you and find it on

Google Scholar ( Read the abstract of that article and tell me:

a. The main point of the article.

b. What data they collected.

c. What they found.

d. Why their results matter.

Table of Contents


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