You've found a few articles that seem relevant to your quote and topic. But now what? They are pretty long and full of challenging vocabulary and lots of data! Believe it or not, you are not expected to read straight through the entire article before you decide whether you want to use it in your essay.
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.
You will better understand the contents of a scholarly article if you read it slightly out of order. Look through the first four or five sections on this list to determine if you want to use an article. Once you've chosen one, take a deeper dive into its contents to find the portions that best support your essay.
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 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, 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.
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.