Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

TIP: When possible, keep your research question(s) in mind when reading scholarly articles. It will help you to focus your reading.

Title. With scholarly sources, titles are straightforward and describe what the article is about.  Titles often include relevant key words.

The Abstract is a summary of the author(s)'s research findings and tells what to expect when you read the full 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.

Discussion and Conclusion. Read these after the Abstract (even though they come at the end of the article). These sections can help you see if this article will meet your research needs. If you don’t think that it will, set it aside.

Introduction. The introduction is meatier than the Abstract. Here you see where the author(s) enter the conversation on this topic.  That is to say, what related research has come before, and how do they hope to advance the discussion with their current research?

The Methods section explains how the study worked.  Again, reading this section, you can think critically about the work that the authors have done, and decide whether it applies to your own research question.  In this section, you often learn who and how many participated in the study and what they were asked to do. In the sciences or social sciences, sub-sections might include Materials and Procedure.

In the Results section (can also be called Data), there can be a lot of numbers and tables. If you are not a whiz at statistics, you can actually skip this section, unless you plan to replicate or modify the project methodology yourself (in which case, you might need to brush up on your statistics). The Discussion or Conclusion section provides the necessary summary of these results. Bottom line: Unless you are a "data" person, you can likely skip the data.

The Works Cited page is often the most important. It might also be called References or Bibliography. This section comprises the author(s)’s sources. Always be sure to scroll through them.  Good research usually cites many different kinds of sources (books, journal articles, etc.). Train yourself to notice the differences between source types in your field’s citation style.  As you read the Works Cited page, be sure to look for sources that look like they will help you to answer your own research question.  It’s considered best practices – and a real time-saver—to do so.

Activity: Reading Scholarly Articles

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Research Toolkit by Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.