Literature Presentations

Literature Presentations in the Foster Lab


  • Improve our breadth of knowledge of research in areas related to ours
  • Increase the breadth of our understanding of problems, techniques and concepts related to our research
  • Learn to read research literature critically, and to identify important knowledge or methodological gaps
  • Practice our presentation skills

Selecting a good paper

Generally speaking, it’s best to organize your presentation around a single research article with interesting findings and/or approach, and expand on the background and context of the paper by supplementing your reading and presentation with material from related articles, reviews, or other sources. Thus, review articles are not generally a good choice for a literature presentation. Criteria to consider:

  • Is the paper interesting/exciting to me (or others in my group)? Does it change the way I think about or approach my research project?
  • Does the paper implement a novel approach, or one that your group might be able to implement to solve our problems?
  • Are the results significant, clear and unambiguous?
  • Is the approach readily understood, or worth effort to understand?
  • If someone else was presenting the paper, would I want to read it?

Reading the paper

A research article is not a novel. Read it with purpose. Start by:

  • Identifying the main question/problem the authors seek to answer; why is it important in this case? How broadly important is it?
  • Review the methods; why did the authors choose this approach? What do the methods used measure? How do they relate to the question?
  • Examine the results/data — including quality, rigor (statistics or signal-to-noise). How were the data interpreted and how do they relate to the focal question. Do they support/falsify a hypothesis?
  • Did the authors claim to have answered the question/solved the problem? What about the results do this?

Digging into the Details

Each paper is different, but it’s often not enough to look at the results; understanding details of HOW the experiments were conducted can be essential to understand the validity and limitations of the conclusions. In addition to exploring enough background on the relevant question (e.g., biological system, experimental method), examine:

  • how the samples were prepared
  • how the data were collected (type of instrument? temperature? concentration?)
  • how the data were analyzed/interpreted (any special data processing? mathematical modeling? statistical analysis?)
  • for these issues you will often need to read carefully through the paper’s supplementary material SI, to make sure you understand the important elements

For a more critical analysis of the paper:

  • what aspects of the conclusions are well supported by the data?
  • how well did the data fit the model/analysis?
  • are there weaknesses?
  • how might it relate to things we are interested in?


Did the authors make their case?

  • what’s the take-home message?
  • is it justified by the data?
  • did the authors over- or under-interpret their data?
  • how might the research apply to your work?


  • Simple slides are better; one idea per slide is best.
  • Avoid slides with only text. Use diagrams/cartoons to communicate key concepts.
  • Employ animations to communicate complex concepts or simplify complex slides
  • Do not list an important conclusion without showing data that support that conclusion (and explaining how it’s so)

(MPF — 2016-02-05)