Take your time  

  • Scholarly journal articles are written for expert audiences.  Those of us who are not experts can expect to run into unfamiliar vocabulary and new concepts. Give yourself enough time to look up those terms in your textbook, or on Wikipedia.
  • Realize that these articles frequently deal with topics that are complicated and challenging.  Even experts may have to read them more than once to fully grasp them.  You should expect to read them multiple times as well.
  • Bring questions that you have to your instructor.

Understand the basic structure of the article

The tips below apply primarily to articles in the social sciences and sciences, where researchers have conducted experimental research.  There are many exceptions to these guidelines.  Every discipline has its own set of norms and practices for conducting and communicating research.  As you progress through your major, you should learn how researchers in your field communicate.

  1. Many scholarly articles are organized into these 5 basic sections:
    • Abstract: this is a short summary of the article's main points.  You will usually find it at the beginning.
    • Introduction & Literature review: In this section the authors explain their reasons for doing the study, and explain where the study fits into the discipline or field.
    • Method: In this section, the authors describe their research method, or what they did to collect their data.
    • Results: In this section, the authors will describe the statistics (or other methods) they used to analyze their data, and their results.  
    • Discussion: In this section, the authors will discuss the implications of their results -- both in terms of their original reseach questions or hypotheses, and more broadly.
  2. Read the title and the abstract to get a big-picture sense of the article's main points.
  3. Read the introduction and literature review to get a sense of what the researchers were hoping to find, and what they wanted to add to our knowledge on the topic.  At the end of this section, you will usually find a kind of "thesis statement" for the article.
  4. Read the discussion section carefully to understand why the researchers think their results are important.
  5. Beginning researchers will sometimes skip the Results and the Methods section.  
    • If you are thinking of conducting an experiment of your own, or if you will be working with a faculty member on their research, the Methods section is important.  It can also be useful if you are comparing two studies.
    • If you do not know statistics, the Results section may be confusing.  If you are reading a study conducted in your major, however, reading this section can give you a sense of what you need to know to do research in your field.