Reading Scholarly Articles

Open in another browser window to work through this tutorial side by side.

In this tutorial, we will guide you through some "best practices" in reading a scholarly journal article.

As you go through this tutorial, we recommend that you read the questions for each section before you read that section of the article. This will help you to focus your reading.

TIP: Click the FULLSCREEN link (bottom right under the article) for easier reading.

In order to orient ourselves, let's start with a basic question about the first page:

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's find the Abstract. Click the arrow to get to the next screen of this guide, once you've found the Abstract.

The Abstract is a summary of the author(s)'s research findings. It's a preview to let you know what s/he will be presenting in the article. It is often a good idea to read the abstract first, in order to determine if you should even bother reading the whole article.

Read the Abstract. According to the abstract, would you use this article to answer these research questions? Why or why not?

Would you use this article if your research question was: Is race a determining factor in which students are better prepared for college?


What if your research question was: How does a student develop academic self-concept?

Believe it or not, when you're reading scholarly articles for a research project, you can discard them, after reading just the Abstract, if you determine that they are not relevant to your research.

You've read the Title and the Abstract. Now, we recommend that you jump to the Discussion (section number IV) and then the Directions for Future Research and Conclusion (section V). This is a big jump, but in reading the Discussion and the Conclusion, you can again see if this article will meet your research needs. As on the last page, if it does not, set it aside. If it does, keep going. How can you evaluate if the Discussion and Conclusion meet your needs? Check out our questions (next page) for some guidance as you read.

TIP: It's often a good idea to read the questions first in order to focus your reading.

From the first sentence of the Discussion, will this article tell you:


Time for another jump, this time backwards. Please find and skim the Introduction (section I). As you skim, you might notice that the Introduction is more than one paragraph. In fact, it is followed by 4 sections. Look at section D. The Current Study.

From reading this section, what do you think that the authors' hypothesis is? That is, what is the question that the authors are trying to answer with their study?

In the Methods section, the authors explain how the study worked.  This is a good time to think critically about the research that the authors have done, and whether it applies to your own research question.  Here, for example, you can learn how many students participated in the study (167, see page 59) and what the ethnic make-up of the study participants was.

Which ethnic group had the most participants?

One gender is significantly better represented than the other. Which is it?

You also learn how the study was conducted. In Materials, you see that a questionnaire was given to these students. And in Procedure, you see that the authors had to get appropriate approvals within their university, and you see how they recruited the students.

In the Results section, there are a lot of numbers. The two tables, in particular, are dizzying (p 61). If you are not a whiz at statistics, you can actually skip this section, unless you plan to replicate this project yourself (in which case, you might need to brush up on your statistics). The important thing to learn from the Results is that "This study demonstrated that higher verbal and math self-concept scores are related to better academic achievement for this ethnically diverse sample of first generation college students." And how do we know that? It says so in the first sentence of the Discussion, on page 62.

Bottom line: Unless you are a "data" person, you can likely skip the data.

Using Good Sources to Find Good Sources

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Now, let's jump to the Works Cited page. In this article, it's called References, and there are 4 pages of them! When you've found them, scroll through. This article cites a lot of journal articles, but uses some books as well.

Q: What is the title of the oldest article that the authors cite, and what year was it published?

Q: There are two references with Pascarella listed as primary author. Look at the one co-authored by Terenzini. Is it...

Q: Look at the reference by Schunk and Pajares (2005). Is this article found in

HINT: You'll have to use the Hunter College Libraries website to find this information.

Using Good Sources to Find Good Sources

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You've done a great job reading through this article. If you were really using this article for a research project, you would probably read it a second time, with your research questions in mind.  For the second reading, you would likely read the article from start to finish. 

Before we go, one last question:

Using Good Sources to Find Good Sources

3 of 3You can use this guide -- with your own questions and articles -- as you read other scholarly articles. Soon, these practices will become second-nature.

In the meantime, you can also visit Hunter College Library's Research Toolkit for some other helpful research tips.