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INST 3800: International Service-Learning (Guenther)

How to Read a Scholarly Article


There will be variations, but this is the basic anatomy of a scholarly article.


Image of an article titled 'The Impact of Marital Conflict and Disruption on Children's Health', with arrows pointing to the title, date published, authors, and the abstract. The Abstract arrow reads: Brief, comprehensive summary of the article. Use to determine if the article is relevant to your topic. Read the abstract (summary) first to make sure the article covers what you're looking for.  It's only a paragraph long usually, but contains a lot of information.  Do not quote, summarize, or paraphrase from the abstract.  Dig deeper. 
Image of an article, with an arrow pointing to a title that reads: Introduction and background: states the reason for the research, background about the issue being studied and reviews the literature on the topic. Skim the introduction and literature review (past studies here) briefly.  If the article is very important to your topic, go back and review the literature carefully to identify other research findings. Don't cite this part! That's not a hard rule, but it's where most undergraduates go wrong. This is where previous research is being discussed. If you cite from here you will likely be doing two things wrong--you will be citing information third hand (scholarly hearsay) and you will be missing the key points of the article. Those come later.
Image of an article with two arrows pointing to parts of it which read: Methodology: Describes the population being studied, Methods used to gather the data, and Methods used to analyze the data. Methodology sections are very complex and, depending on your area of study, may not be easy to understand. Quickly skim the methodology section to get an idea of what kind of research was conducted and keep an eye out for problematic research (small studies, biased research questions, etc.) You may also want to go back and read this section more carefully if you are conducting your own research.
Image of an article with an arrow pointing to a sub title that reads: Results: Summarizes the results and findings using text, tables, charts, and graphs. Skim or read the results. This sounds like it would be the most important part of the article, but the results section is often an in-depth analysis that may be as complicated as the methodology. Look at the tables and graphs and try to get a sense of the findings. Don't get too bogged down in understanding every finding.
Article with an arrow pointing to a subtitle that reads: Discussion: Analyzes results, explains he significance and discusses further research. Carefully read the discussion/conclusion sections. This is where the author(s) discuss what they found and why it's important.  This is likely where you will find most information that you will want to summarize, cite, or paraphrase. Sometimes after reading the abstract, I skip straight ahead to this section and go back to the earlier information.
Article with an arrow pointing to a subtitle that reads: References: List of the works cited and used to support the research. Skim or refer back to the reference list if you need to find sources discussed in the article. Skim the reference list if you need more sources.  Refer back to it if you read something interesting that is cited in the article.


Images used under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 from Capella University