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Technological Literacy Across the Social Sciences - SSCI101

Recognizing scholarly articles

One type of source you will be required to use in your research are scholarly articles. These are research studies that are published in peer-reviewed academic journals, so you may also hear them referred to as peer-reviewed articles. These are different from source types you encounter more regularly, like news articles, because they use specific terms and language (or jargon) and are written by scholars for an academic audience, typically other scholars in the same discipline.

There are other differences between scholarly and popular sources (like news, magazines, and websites) as well! These differences exist whether you find the articles through an internet search or a library database. Please see the chart below for more detail. 

Comparison of characteristics of scholarly and popular articles
What to Know Scholarly Journal Articles  Popular Articles (news, magazines, webpages)
Who writes them? Experts in a field
Researchers
Scholars or Professors
Reporters or journalists
Staff writers
Free-lance writers
Who reads them?

Researchers and Experts
Scholars (including students)
People with knowledge of the topic

General public
People who do not have in-depth knowledge of the topic

What do they look like?

"Serious" looking - mostly text, some charts, graphs, or tables
Fewer advertisements or illustrations
Generally longer articles

Articles online or in databases are often in PDF format to appear similar to a print journal

Glossy, color photographs
Commercial advertisements
Easy-to-read or eye-catching layout

Articles online often have hyperlinks to other relevant articles throughout the text

What are they about?

Original research studies or experiments
In-depth analysis of a specific topic or theory
Critical analysis (criticism)

Entertainment and popular culture
Current events and news
Opinion pieces or articles with an emotional slant

Who reviews them?

Peer reviewers - an editorial board of experts in the discipline

Staff editors and publishers

What are they used for?

Finding current research about a specific aspect of your topic
Learning what the experts say about your topic and using it to support your thesis

Broad overviews of current topics
Information about popular culture
Introduction to an unfamiliar topic

What are some examples? cover of Policy Studies Journal with table of contents on covercover of the journal ethnic and racial studies

logo for magazine, The Atlantic

logo for online magazine, Psychology Today

Using scholarly articles

Now that you know how scholarly articles differ from sources you are more familiar with, we will look at how you use them. Since these articles are written for an academic audience that already has some knowledge of the topic, they can be complex and packed full of technical information!

Parts of a scholarly article

Most scholarly articles are organized in the same way, and knowing how they are laid out can help you read and understand them. You can use this interactive scholarly article tutorial to take a look at the typical organization of a scholarly article.

Reading scholarly articles

Believe it or not, you are not expected to read a scholarly article straight through from beginning to end! In fact, you will better understand its contents if you take a different approach, and read it slightly out of order:

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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 social sciences, sub-sections might include Materials and Procedure.

  6. 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, this can be a challenging section to understand. Since the Discussion and Conclusion sections provide the necessary summary of these results, it's okay to skim over this section.

  7. The References page is often the most important. It might also be called Works Cited 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 References 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.

 

Reading Scholarly Articles list modified from the original Research Toolkit by Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.