How to Read a Paper

Posted on Nov 30, 2023

“Three-Pass Approach”

Each pass accomplishes specific goals and builds upon the previous pass: The first pass gives you a general idea about the paper. The second pass lets you grasp the paper’s content, but not its details. The third pass helps you understand the paper in depth.

The first pass

The first pass is a quick scan to get a bird’s-eye view of the paper. You can also decide whether you need to do any more passes. This pass should take about five to ten minutes and consists of the following steps:

  1. Carefully read the title, abstract, and introduction
  2. Read the section and sub-section headings, but ignore everything else
  3. Read the conclusions
  4. Glance over the references, mentally ticking off the ones you’ve already read

At the end of the first pass, you should be able to answer the five Cs:

  1. Category: What type of paper is this? A measurement paper? An analysis of an existing system?A description of a research prototype?
  2. Context: Which other papers is it related to? Which theoretical bases were used to analyze the problem?
  3. Correctness: Do the assumptions appear to be valid?
  4. Contributions: What are the paper’s main contributions?
  5. Clarity: Is the paper well written?

Using this information, you may choose not to read further. This could be because the paper doesn’t interest you, or you don’t know enough about the area to understand the paper, or that the authors make invalid assumptions. The first pass is adequate for papers that aren’t in your research area, but may someday prove relevant. Incidentally, when you write a paper, you can expect most reviewers (and readers) to make only one pass over it. Take care to choose coherent section and sub-section titles and to write concise and comprehensive abstracts. If a reviewer cannot understand the gist after one pass, the paper will likely be rejected; if a reader cannot understand the highlights of the paper after five minutes, the paper will likely never be read.

The second pass

In the second pass, read the paper with greater care, but ignore details such as proofs. It helps to jot down the key points, or to make comments in the margins, as you read.

  1. Look carefully at the figures, diagrams and other illustrations in the paper. Pay special attention to graphs.Are the axes properly labeled? Are results shown with error bars, so that conclusions are statistically significant? Common mistakes like these will separate rushed, shoddy work from the truly excellent.
  2. Remember to mark relevant unread references for further reading (this is a good way to learn more about the background of the paper).

The second pass should take up to an hour. After this pass, you should be able to grasp the content of the paper.You should be able to summarize the main thrust of the paper, with supporting evidence, to someone else. This level of detail is appropriate for a paper in which you are interested, but does not lie in your research speciality.

Sometimes you won’t understand a paper even at the end of the second pass. This may be because the subject matter is new to you, with unfamiliar terminology and acronyms.Or the authors may use a proof or experimental technique that you don’t understand, so that the bulk of the paper is incomprehensible. The paper may be poorly written with unsubstantiated assertions and numerous forward references. Or it could just be that it’s late at night and you’retired. You can now choose to: (a) set the paper aside, hoping you don’t need to understand the material to be successful in your career, (b) return to the paper later, perhaps after reading background material or (c) persevere and go on to the third pass.

The third pass

To fully understand a paper, particularly if you are reviewer, requires a third pass. The key to the third pass is to attempt to virtually re-implement the paper: that is, making the same assumptions as the authors, re-create the work. By comparing this re-creation with the actual paper, you can easily identify not only a paper’s innovations, but also its hidden failings and assumptions. This pass requires great attention to detail. You should identify and challenge every assumption in every statement.Moreover, you should think about how you yourself would present a particular idea. This comparison of the actual with the virtual lends a sharp insight into the proof and presentation techniques in the paper and you can very likely add this to your repertoire of tools. During this pass, you should also jot down ideas for future work. This pass can take about four or five hours for beginners, and about an hour for an experienced reader. At the end of this pass, you should be able to reconstruct the entire structure of the paper from memory, as well as be able to identify its strong and weak points. In particular, you should be able to pinpoint implicit assumptions, missing citations to relevant work, and potential issues with experimental or analytical techniques.


Paper reading skills are put to the test in doing a literature survey. This will require you to read tens of papers, perhaps in an unfamiliar field. What papers should you read? Here is how you can use the three-pass approach to help.

First, use an academic search engine such as Google Scholar or CiteSeer and some well-chosen keywords to find three to five recent papers in the area. Do one pass on each paper to get a sense of the work, then read their related work sections. You will find a thumbnail summary of the recent work, and perhaps, if you are lucky, a pointer to a recent survey paper. If you can find such a survey, you are done.Read the survey, congratulating yourself on your good luck.

Otherwise, in the second step, find shared citations and repeated author names in the bibliography.These are the key papers and researchers in that area. Download the key papers and set them aside. Then go to the websites of the key researchers and see where they’ve published recently.

That will help you identify the top conferences in that field because the best researchers usually publish in the top conferences.

The third step is to go to the website for these top conferences and look through their recent proceedings. A quick scan will usually identify recent high-quality related work.These papers, along with the ones you set aside earlier, constitute the first version of your survey. Make two passes through these papers. If they all cite a key paper that you did not find earlier, obtain and read it, iterating as necessary.

如何阅读论文 三步阅读论文法

每一遍都要实现特定的目标,并建立在前一遍的基础上: 第一遍让你对论文有一个大致的了解。第二遍让你掌握论文的内容,但不是细节。第三遍帮助您深入理解论文。



  1. 仔细阅读标题、摘要和引言
  2. 阅读章节和小节标题,忽略其他内容
  3. 阅读结论
  4. 浏览参考文献,在脑海中勾选已读过的参考文献

第一关结束时,您应该能够回答五个 C:

  1. 类别:这是什么类型的纸? 测量论文? 现有系统分析? 研究原型描述?
  2. 背景:与哪些其他论文有关?分析问题时使用了哪些理论基础?
  3. 正确性:假设是否有效?
  4. 贡献:论文的主要贡献是什么?
  5. 清晰度:论文写得清楚吗?

根据这些信息,您可能会选择不再继续阅读。这可能是因为你对这篇论文不感兴趣,或者你对这一领域的了解还不足以理解这篇论文,或者作者做出了无效的假设。 对于不属于您的研究领域,但有朝一日可能会被证明与您的研究相关的论文,第一遍阅读就足够了。



在第二遍阅读时,要更加仔细地阅读论文,但忽略证明等细节。 在阅读过程中,记下要点或在空白处做注释会有帮助。

  1. 仔细观察试卷中的数字、图表和其他插图。特别注意图表。是否正确标注了坐标轴?结果是否显示了误差条,以便得出具有统计学意义的结论? 诸如此类的常见错误会将匆忙、低劣的作品与真正优秀的作品区分开来。
  2. 记得标记相关的未读参考文献,以便进一步阅读(这是了解论文背景的好方法)。

第二遍最多需要一个小时。 通过这一关后,您应该能够掌握论文的内容。您应该能够向他人概述论文的主要内容,并提供佐证。这种详细程度适合您感兴趣但不属于您研究专长的论文。

有时,即使在第二遍考试结束时,您也无法理解一篇论文。这可能是因为论文的主题对你来说是新的,其中有你不熟悉的术语和缩略词。或者,作者可能使用了你不理解的证明或实验技术,因此论文的大部分内容你都无法理解。论文可能写得不好,论断缺乏事实根据,参考文献繁多。也可能只是因为夜深了,你累了。你现在可以选择(a) 把论文放在一边,希望自己不需要理解这些材料就能在事业上取得成功;(b) 以后再看论文,也许是在阅读了背景材料之后;或者 (c) 坚持下去,继续第三遍。


要完全理解一篇论文,特别是如果您是审稿人,就需要第三遍。 第三遍的关键在于尝试虚拟地重新实施论文:也就是说,做出与作者相同的假设,重新创建工作。通过将这种再创造与实际论文进行比较,您不仅可以轻松识别论文的创新之处,还可以识别其隐藏的缺陷和假设。

这一关卡要求非常注重细节。 您应确定并质疑每项陈述中的每一个假设。此外,你还应该想想你自己会如何表述某个观点。 通过这种虚实对比,你可以对论文中的证明和表述技巧有敏锐的洞察力,而且很有可能将其添加到你的工具库中。 在这个过程中,你还应该记下对未来工作的想法。

对于初学者来说,这一关大约需要四五个小时,对于有经验的读者来说,大约需要一个小时。 这一关结束时,您应该能够凭记忆重建论文的整体结构,并能找出论文的强项和弱项。特别是,您应该能够找出隐含的假设、缺少的相关引文以及实验或分析技术方面的潜在问题。



首先,使用学术搜索引擎(如 Google Scholar 或 CiteSeer)和一些精心挑选的关键词来查找该领域的三到五篇最新论文。 对每篇论文进行一次浏览,了解其工作内容,然后阅读其相关工作部分。您会发现近期工作的缩略摘要,如果幸运的话,也许还能找到近期调查论文的指针。如果您能找到这样一份调查报告,那就大功告成了。阅读调查报告,祝贺自己的好运气。

否则,在第二步中,在参考书目中找到共同引用和重复的作者姓名。 这些都是该领域的关键论文和研究人员。下载关键论文并将其放在一边。然后访问主要研究人员的网站,看看他们最近在哪里发表了论文。


第三步是访问这些顶级会议的网站,查看它们最近的论文集。快速扫描通常会发现近期高质量的相关工作。这些论文以及您之前预留的论文将构成您调查的第一版。 对这些论文进行两次浏览。如果这些论文都引用了您之前没有找到的关键论文,请获取并阅读,必要时进行反复修改。


过去 15 年来,我一直用这种方法阅读会议论文集、撰写评论、进行背景研究,以及在讨论前快速审阅论文。这种严谨的方法可以防止我在鸟瞰之前淹没在细节中。它让我能够估算出审阅一组论文所需的时间。 此外,我还可以根据自己的需要和时间来调整论文评审的深度。