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Learning Portal - Study Skills : How to Read Journal Articles

How to Read Journal Articles

We often read scholarly sources like journal articles for the first time in college, and they can be difficult to understand without knowing what to look for. This page provides information on what journal articles are, how they are usually organized, and how to read and learn from them.

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Key Words

Academic journal / scholarly journal: a publication that releases regular issues containing research, reports, and reviews on academic topics. Some well-known examples of academic journals include The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), PLOS One, The Lancet, and many more.

Journal article: a single work published in a journal.

Database: a digital storage system that can be searched for information. Academic journals and articles are usually stored online in academic databases.

Empirical: this describes information or knowledge gained through direct observation, experimentation, or experience. For example, original research is usually based on empirical evidence.

Peer-reviewed: an article that has been examined by other experts in the field. The peer-review process is used to make sure the information in journal articles is accurate, so peer-reviewed articles are usually considered very trustworthy sources. You might also see the word "refereed" used to mean this.

What Is a Journal Article?

A journal article is a short piece of writing published in an academic journal which discusses research and information on a certain topic. Their first pages often look something like this:

Journal articles are written by researchers in all different fields (usually professors or advanced students), and are often reviewed by other experts (peer-reviewed) before they are published. They are usually found online, through academic databases and search tools like GPRC's WorldCAT Discovery or Google Scholar, as described in the image below (by Rachel Arteaga, 2016, for California State University, Chico):

Check out the tabs on this page to learn more about reading journal articles!

Types of Journal Articles

Different types of journal articles have different goals and types of main ideas, including:

Original research

For example, "We gave 300 plants different types of water, and this is what happened to them."

or, "These are the reasons this historical event occurred the way it did, and this is how we know."

 

Case studies

For example, "We looked at how one school responded to this crisis, because their situation could represent lots of similar schools too."

 

Review articles

For example, "We read all the recent work on this topic, and these are the major trends we found."

Parts of Journal Articles

Key information about the article can be found on its first page, as shown in the example below (University of Toronto Mississauga, 2017):

Journal articles that talk about original research will usually have the following sections:

  • Abstract (summary and key words)
  • Introduction/ literature review (what’s going on and how did we get here?)
  • Methods (how did we do our research?)
  • Results (what did we find?)
  • Discussion/Analysis/Conclusion (what does it all mean? Why is this important?)
  • References (where did we get our information?)

Rochester Institute of Technology Libraries, 2009, https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/scholarly-articles/

How to Read Journal Articles

One suggested method is as follows:

  • Read the abstract first to see what the article talks about.
  • Read the introduction, thesis statement, and discussion/conclusion next to see what the main idea is and what the research found.
  • Then, go into the central report section to find more specific details about how the research was conducted.
  • You can also skim sections if you need to.

 

Once you know the article will be useful for you (after you have read the abstract), be sure to:

  • Take note of the article title, authors, and link so you don't lose the source.
  • Take notes of any key information or quotes you could use in an essay.
  • Hold onto your notes to review later - this takes less time than reading the whole article again!

 

Image from "How to write an Introduction." Science Research Writing, n.d. http://www.ehu.eus/ccwintco/uploads/e/ef/How_to_write_a_good_introduction.pdf

Attribution 

Unless otherwise stated, this material was created by Claire Pienaar for the GPRC Learning Commons in November 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY NC SA 4.0 International License.

All icons on these pages are from The Noun Project. See individual icons for creator attribution. 

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