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Evaluating References and Taking Notesevaluating-references

After you have obtained a set of references that pertain to the topic of your research paper, you will need to carefully read and evaluate them.  Some references may turn out to be very useful, while others may not.  Here we discuss ways to read and evaluate scholarly references, as well as ways to take notes on references.

There are many different ways to read a peer-reviewed journal article or other type of scholarly source.  Ideally, you should try to critically read sources.  That is, you should thoroughly consider the points being made (a process that is usually accomplished by reading the article more than once) and to carefully evaluate the article’s scientific merit.

Evaluating Scholarly References

Some approaches to reading articles include: initially skimming the article by reading the Abstract, examining any Figures and Tables, before accomplishing a more thorough, in-depth, and careful reading of the entire article.  Then taking notes or creating a summary of the article before reading it again.1  You might also try creating a list of questions that one uses when reading multiple articles on a given topic. For instance:

  • What is the authors’ hypothesis?  There may be more than one hypothesis, and the hypothesis may not be directly described as such.
  • What was the experimental design?  Was it an observational study, experimental study, within-subjects, between-subjects, etc.?
  • Did the data support or reject the hypothesis?  How convincing are the data in your view?
  • How did the authors interpret their findings?  Is the authors’ interpretation convincing?
  • Did the results yield questions for further research?  Did the authors suggest further research?
  • Were there any parts of the article that were not clear?
  • Were there any parts of the article that were especially insightful?

The QALMRI Method for Evaluating Research

A number of professors in this department recommend the QALMRI method (an acronym which stands for Question, Alternatives, Logic, Methods, Results and Inferences) for critically reading journal articles.  The QALMRI method provides a framework for analyzing published research.  A summary of this method is as follows (adapted from QALMRI instructions developed by Stephen Kosslyn and Robin Rosenberg and materials provided by Prof. Adena Schachner):2,3


Write down the broad research question that is being addressed in one sentence.  A broad research question is an overall or main question that is often too general to be completely answered by a single study or series of experiments.  Then, write down the specific research question that the study will actually answer in one sentence.  A specific research question is a focused question that the study can directly address.  For example, a main question might be, “Does sleep improve memory?”, whereas a specific question might be, “Does a night of sleep improve the retention of vocabulary words?”


What is the authors’ main hypothesis as it relates to the specific question?  What would be an alternative hypothesis or hypotheses to the specific question?  Write down both types of hypotheses.  For example, a main hypothesis might be that “sleep will improve retention of vocabulary words because it supports declarative memory consolidation processes.”  An alternative hypothesis could be that “sleep will not improve retention of vocabulary words because it does not influence declarative memory consolidation.”  There are at least two possible answers to a specific question. 


How exactly will the study address the specific question?  First, identify and write down the dependent and independent variables of the study.  For example, a study might have “number of vocabulary words recalled” as the dependent variable and “whether sleep occurred prior to the recall test or not” as the independent variable.  Then, write logical statements which relate the study hypotheses to potential results.  These should take the form of if-then statements.  An example logical statement is, “If sleep supports declarative memory consolidation, then better memory of vocabulary words should be observed after a night of sleep.”


Write down details of the design of the study, including the participants, how the dependent and independent variables were measured, and the procedure that was used.  You should focus on the details which are relevant to the logic of the study.


Write down what was observed in the study.  What did the researchers find?  Note how reliable or robust the results appeared.  Were statistics performed on the results?  How likely are the findings due to chance?


What do the findings reveal about the alternatives (that is, the main and alternative hypotheses)?  The results should allow ruling out of at least one hypothesis (in most cases).  Additionally, what do the findings reveal about the broad and specific research questions?  Are there any limitations or unanswered questions?

Overall, the QALMRI method is a useful framework for critically evaluating and interpreting journal articles.  It enables readers to focus on the critical aspects of each article that they read by “pulling out” (that is, identifying and writing down) key information.  Moreover, it helps readers better understand the scientific merit of research by (a) identifying the underlying logic of a research design, (b) relating data to specific research questions, and (c) evaluating the degree to which the results of a study support various conclusions.

Taking Notes on References

When reading articles, it is often helpful to take notes.  As alluded to above, notes can aid the process of critically evaluating an article.  Notes can also be valuable when it comes time to preparing to write (or actually writing) the research paper.  When taking notes, you might wish to focus on:

  • Key findings that you plan to cite
  • Any potentially interesting references that you plan to look up
  • Any areas that you do not understand or need clarification
  • Unresolved questions or issues raised by other researchers that interest you
  • Page numbers of important quotes, figures, or other information that you plan to refer to

Taking notes as you read can expedite the writing process because you do not have to go back to the source articles as often.  Instead, if your notes are well-organized and in one place, you can simply refer to them (and go back to the source articles as needed).

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [PDF]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [PDF]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

UCSD Resources  

QALMRI Resources

External Resources on Evaluating Sources


Rodriguez, N.  (2015).  Infographic: How to read a scientific paper (Elsevier Publishing).  Available at:
2Schachner, A. (2018).  QALMRI worksheet [Instructional Materials]. 
3Kosslyn, S. M., & Rosenberg, R. S. (2001). Psychology: the brain, the person, the world. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

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