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Writing Guide

How to Read an Academic Article

Academic journals publish the results of research studies performed by experts in an academic discipline.  Articles selected for publication go through a rigorous peer-review process.  This process includes a thorough evaluation of the research submitted for publication by journal editors and other experts or peers in the field.  Editors select articles based on specific criteria including the research methods used, whether the research contributes new findings to the field of study, and how the research fits within the scope of the academic journal.  Articles selected often go through a revision process prior to publication.

Most academic journal articles include the following sections:

  • Abstract  (An executive summary of the study)
  • Introduction (Definition of the research question to be studied)
  • Literature Review (A summary of past research noting where gaps exist)
  • Methods (The research design including variables, sample size, measurements)
  • Data (Information gathered through the study often displayed in tables and charts)
  • Results (Conclusions reached at the end of the study)
  • Conclusion (Discussion of whether the study proved the thesis; may suggest opportunities for further research)
  • Bibliography (A list of works cited in the journal article)

TIP: To begin selecting articles for your research, read the highlighted sections to determine whether the academic journal article includes information relevant to your research topic.

When sorting through multiple articles discovered in the research process, skimming through these sections of the article will help you determine whether the article will be useful in your research.

1. Article title  and subject headings assigned to the article

2. Abstract

3. Introduction

4. Conclusion

If the article fits your information need, go back and read the article thoroughly.

TIP: Create a folder on your computer to save copies of articles you plan to use in your thesis or research project.  Use NoodleTools or APA Academic Writer to save APA references.

Think about how you will evaluate the academic articles you find and how you will determine whether to include them in your research project.  Ask yourself the following questions to focus your search in the academic literature:

  • ‚ÄčAre you looking for an overview of a topic? an explanation of a specific concept, idea, or position?
  • Are you exploring gaps in the research to identify a new area for academic study?
  • Are you looking for research that supports or disagrees with your thesis or research question?
  • Are you looking for examples of a research design and/or research methods you are considering for your own research project?

Before reading the article, ask yourself the following:

  • What is my research question?  What position am I trying to support?
  • What do I already know about this topic?  What do I need to learn?
  • How will I evaluate the article?  Author's reputation? Research design? Treatment of topic? 
  • What are my biases about the topic?

As you read the article make note of the following:

  • Who is the intended audience for this article?
  • What is the author's purpose in writing this article?
  • What is the main point?
  • How was the main point proven or supported?  
  • Were scientific methods used in conducting the research?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why?
  • How does this article compare or connect with other articles on the topic?
  • Does the author recommend areas for further study?
  • How does this article help to answer your research question?