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Reading and Understanding Scholarly Articles

Introduction

This guide focuses on exploring the sections commonly found in scholarly articles in the sciences, especially those that report the results of research, controlled studies, and experiments. These types of articles are often very different from scholarly literature published in other disciplines like the Humanities or Arts. If you need help understanding an article in the humanities, feel free to contact a librarian.

Anatomy of a Research Paper

Title and Author

The title of a scholarly research article should tell you what the paper is about. However, sometimes authors will use catchy titles to draw interest to the article. 

The author section will often provide the credentials of the author as well as their affiliation. This can help you with determining if the author has the knowledge to be writing on a topic. For example, if someone is writing a paper on heart failure and they are an M.D. that practices in a cardiology department, they more than likely are knowledgeable on the subject and therefore a credible author. 

Abstract

The abstract section of a research article will provide a summary of the article. Many times, the methodology of the study and the findings are discussed. Reading the abstract will help you decide if the article is something you want to read in more depth. 

Literature Review

Most research articles will contain a small literature review section that gives a summary of what has already been reported on the topic of interest. They most often are not comprehensive but provide background information on what research has been done on a topic, major findings, and what gaps are found in the literature. 

Methodology

The methodology section details how the study was done. This will include information on things like:

  • What type of study it is (i.e. prospective cohort, randomized control trial, systematic review)
  • How they measured and what tools they used
  • The inclusion/exclusion criteria of study participants or of articles if doing a systematic review

Basically, this section gives the reader a clear overview of how the study was carried out and can give you insights to whether it is a qualitative study, a quantitative study, or something else. 

Discussion

This section is where the authors discuss their findings of the study they carried out. This is where you will find any statistics that are being reported. 

Conclusion

In this section, the authors will discuss any conclusions they can draw about their findings. There is often a discussion about the potential limitations of the study. 

The most common way to skim a research article to see what it is about and if it is important to the topic you are researching is to look at the paper in this order:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction /conclusion
  • Method/results
  • Discussion

Critical Reading

Being able to critically read a paper will allow you to make decisions on the whether the research being presented is sound and if it is something that will support the arguments that you are making when doing academic projects or writing papers. The book below will help with developing these skills.

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