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Library Research: How to Read Scholarly Articles

A general overview of library research.

Saint Paul College Library

Common Sections of an Article

Abstract: a short summary of the research

Introduction: describes the problem and the importance of the research

Literature Review: describes the previous research done on the topic

Methods: describes the methods used to perform the research

Results: the data that the research produced (this is usually a graphic, like a table, a graph, or a chart)

Discussion & Conclusion: the summary of the research results, including implications for further research

References: the works cited in the paper


Check out this tutorial from North Carolina State University for more information on the parts of scholarly articles. 

What is a Scholarly Article?

Many instructors at the college level require that you use scholarly articles as sources when writing a research paper. Scholarly or peer-reviewed articles are written by experts in academic or professional fields. They hold a lot of information, but they can be difficult (and sometimes boring) to read. They key to understanding these articles is learning about their different parts and knowing how to read them. 

Below is a great video from the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library to help you through it. No headphones? No problem. See the next box for more information. 

Read an Article in this Order

Be prepared to take your time, read sections more than once, and have a dictionary handy. Keep a pencil nearby to take notes.

1. Read the Abstract and Introduction

The Abstract will give you a preview of the entire article, including the results. If it doesn't relate to your research, you don't have to read any more than that. If it does, keep reading! The introduction will provide clear statements about the article's purpose and its main point.

2. Read the Discussion and Conclusions

These sections will provide a summary of the study findings and an explanation of how the research contributes to the field. They will often also include questions the study did not answer, which can be helpful if you're writing a response or preparing for a class discussion.

3. Look at the Data

Look closely at the visual elements of the article: the tables, charts, and graphs. These will help you get a better idea of the results of the research. Do you see the same patterns the researchers saw?

4. Read the Entire Article

Once you've pre-read the article and you know it relates to your own research, read it from start to finish. Don't skip over section headings; they'll help you stay on track. Take notes or highlight ideas that stand out as you go. 

5. Check the References

If the article was helpful to you, check to see what articles (or sources) were helpful to the writers. You might want to make use of those sources as well.