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Researching and Writing a Paper: How to Read a Scholarly Article.

This guide is about how to start, research, write, and format, a paper.

The videos below are excellent summaries of how to read a Scholarly Article. The text beneath the videos goes into more detail and - unlike a video - it can be reviewed without having to click rewind and fast-forward until you find the section you want.

Video: How to read a scholarly article

Video2: How to read a scholarly article

Reading a Scholarly Article

Scholarly research articles vary slightly in their structure, but most contain these sections – which should first be read in the order below (take notes as you read):

  • Abstract: A brief summary of the article, book or other written publication. It might be in formal language or it may be in narrative format. This is the first paragraph you see in an article. It's not always labeled and it is written by the authors. Abstracts are intended to help you figure out whether reading the article is appropriate for your research. If the abstract sounds interesting skip to the end of the article and read the Discussion/Conclusion.

  • Discussion/Conclusion: This is an analysis of the research results and their implications. This is usually the last portion of the article and will include what the authors learned. This section may also provide suggestions for future research. If the research results and their implications confirm to you that this article may be helpful go back and read the Introduction/Background.

  • Introduction/Background: This provides a context or contexts for the study. There will be references to other articles on the same or related topics, and an explanation of why the authors did the study. Once you read these three sections you probably mostly understand what the research study was about, what it was trying to accomplish, and what has been learned from the study. Sometimes, but not always, there will be a separate Literature Review section that summarizes information (and provides citations) from several articles relevant to the article you are reading (some of which might be good additional sources for your paper).

  • Literature Review: A summary of the current state of knowledge on a given topic, with detailed descriptions of significant individual studies or papers. A literature review may be a section appearing after the Introduction/Background, or it may be most or all of the article (a good literature review can be a big help in finding sources for your paper).

  • Methods and Results: Usually Methods and Results are two separate closely-related sections, they are detailed descriptions of how the research was done and what data resulted. These sections will often include lots of statistics and analytical terms you may not be familiar with, but don’t worry - you don’t have to immediately understand all of the graphs or numbers. Focus on being able to explain what the authors did and how they did it. (And make a note of anything you are not sure you understand!)

  • The next thing you should do is consult a dictionary (One Look Dictionary Search) or an encyclopedia like Credo , so that you can be sure you understand any words that were not clear to you. It is often a good idea to also check some of the terms that you think you understand because the way a word is used in scholarly writing is not always the same as the way it is used in day-to-day writing. Consulting with your teacher is also often very useful.

  • Ideally you now (or the next day) read the article again, this time from the beginning to the end. As you read take more notes and pay particular attention to these mentions in the article:

    • Aim: the goal of the study (often discussed in the Introduction and mentioned in the Abstract).

    • Limitations: These are flaws or problems with the research - nearly no research study is perfect. Good scholars will be as clear about what they have not learned as they are about what they have learned.
      (The limitations of the study may be a brief sentence or two in the Discussion/Conclusion, or it may be discussed more fully in the Methods or Results sections. Often the limitations of the study are implied in the discussion of the sample, methods, or results - for example an excellent study can be done with a small sample, but a small sample size is a limitation in the study, even though the authors did not feel a need to tell the reader that it is a limitation because the problems of small samples are well known.)

    • Participants or Sample: the people, animals, cars, software, social conflicts, etc., being studied.

  • And finally, look through the ‘References’, ‘Bibliography’, or ‘Works Cited’ section of the article. This section contains the articles, books, and other information sources the authors used to show how their research is related to research efforts by other people and to write their article. If the article is useful for your paper there is a good chance that some of the materials the authors cite will be useful to you.
    (You might also look the article up in Google Scholar because under the entry for the article there will be a link to a list of articles that cite the article you just looked up - some of those might be useful too!)

Note: When you add a quote or paraphrase to your notes that you want to use in your paper be sure to write out all of the citation information with the quote or paraphrase - this is much much easier than later trying to figure out where the quote/paraphrase came from (and much better than forgetting that a quote or paraphrase is someone else's idea and mistakenly believing it is your idea - that can be very embarrassing). If you decide that an article, book, video, etc., might be useful for your paper write down the citation for that article before you begin to take notes from the article.

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