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Finding Information

How to Read a Scholarly Article

Image result for scholarly articlesThe information on this page covers the following topics: 

  1. Identifying a scholarly article - so you can be sure you are using a scholarly article.
  2. A short video on how to read a scholarly article. (located to the left)
  3. How to read a citation from the library's database when you are searching for an article.
  4. Locating the Author's Credentials to be sure the author(s) is/are truly experts in the topic on which they are writing.
  5. Reading an abstract - so you can determine whether the article is suitable for your research.
  6. Identifying the Hypothesis or Thesis in an article to determine the author's purpose. 
  7. Additional Parts of a scholarly article:
  • Literature Review
  • Research Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion/Conclusion
  • References

Identifying a Scholarly Article

In order to read scholarly materials accurately, you first need to be able to identify them. The most common attributes of scholarly materials are:

  • Aesthetics: As opposed to popular sources, scholarly materials aren't as flashy. You'll see fewer images and decorative elements. Every part of a scholarly source has a purpose.

  • Audience: Scholarly articles are written for scholars and experts in a specific research field and can include a wide variety of disciplines, including the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and other subjects.

  • Authority: Authors of published scholarly materials are experts in their fields, have credentials and affiliations to prove their authority, and can pass the peer-review process.

  • Jargon: Special terminology and language specific to a particular field of study is called jargon.

  • Peer Review: In scholarly materials, peer review is the evaluation of sources (usually articles) submitted for publication by researchers in the same discipline.

Use this chart to help distinguish among types of periodicals (publications that are issued on a regular (or periodic) interval and typically address a very specific aspect of a larger topic):

  Magazines and Newspapers Scholarly Journals Trade Journals
Authors Reporters, journalists Researchers & scholars in the field Professionals in the field
Purpose Entertain, persuade, inform Publish research, educate, & communicate Share information in the field
Audience General public Researchers, experts, & students in the field Professionals & students in the field

Writing Style & Vocabulary

Simple, easy-to-read, writing & vocabulary

Sophisticated, formal writing

Technical, discipline-specific vocabulary

Readable by general population

Vocabulary specific to profession

Sources Not cited Cited with footnotes or bibliography Generally not cited as scholarly journals are, but references may be given
Advertising Extensive Announcements for conferences, publications in the field Specific to products & services in the profession
Graphics Usually photographs accompany articles Charts, tables, & statistical data to support articles Photographs, charts, data
Publishers Commercial, for-profit Professional society, university, or non-profit organization Professional or trade organization, non-profit organization
Is it Refereed or Peer-reviewed? No Yes, articles must meet rigorous standards & be reviewed by a panel of experts before being accepted for publication Not a peer-review process, but articles are checked for accuracy before publication
Examples

Parents, Newsweek,

Sports Illustrated

New York Times

Botany

Reading Research Quarterly

Journal of Marriage and the Family

New England Journal of Medicine

Advertising Age

Law and Order

Phi Delta Kappan

Training

Reading the Citation from a Database

Here is a citation for a journal article from a library database:


Here is the first page of that article as it appears in the journal:

Locating the Author's Credentials

Typically, the names of the academic or research institutions the authors are affiliated with will be stated on the first page of the journal article, either near the author's names, or lower on the page. 

Reading the Abstract

Abstracts are often written by the author or authors of the article.  The abstract provides a concise summary of the research, including its purpose, significant results, and implications of the results.  Reading the abstract can be a good way to determine whether the article is suitable for your needs.  The abstract appears on the first page of the journal article, and may or may not be labeled. As a general rule, you only will find abstracts on papers of five or more pages in length. 

Hypothesis or Thesis

The first few paragraphs of a journal article serve to introduce the topic, to provide the author's hypothesis or thesis, and to indicate why the research was done.  A thesis or hypothesis is not always clearly labled; you may need to read through the introductory paragraphs to determine what the authors are proposing.

Literature Review

A literature review describes previous research or discussion that has been published on the topic. This review of the literature can provide a good overview of the topic and will outline what other researchers have found. The passage below shows references to the work of other researchers throughout the text, with their names and the year their research was published in parenthetical citations.

 

Research Methods

This section of the article describes the procedures, or methods, that were used to carry out the research study.  The methodology the authors follow will vary according to the discipline, or field of study, the research relates to.  Types of methodology include case studies, scientific experiments, field studies, focus groups, and surveys.

Results Section

This section gives all of the data that was collected as a result of the research.  Typically, results are reported in statistical terms, often in the form of tables, charts, and graphs.

Discussion/Conclusion Section

This section gives discussion, conclusions, or implications, of the research.  Here, the authors summarize what the results of the research might mean to the field, how the research addresses the original hypothesis, weaknesses of the study, and recommendations for future research about the topic.

References Section

The list of references, or works cited, provides publication information for all of the materials the authors used in the article.  The references list can be a good way to identify additional sources of information on the topic.

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