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How To - Read a Scholarly Article

interactive article

The interactive image below shows two pages from a scholarly journal article. Click on the signs to learn more about each section of the article. If the article text is too small to read, you can click on the grey box with four arrows (Solid grey square with white outline of another square. White arrows point to each corner of the inner square. ) to view this in full-screen mode. You can also review the notes below the article; they cover the same information.


If you cannot view the interactive image above, you may wish to download our example article. We looked at pages 694 (which is not clearly labeled; it's the first page of the article) and 709.

Here are the sections we discussed on 694.

  • Citation information. In the upper left-hand corner of page 694, there are two lines of text that begin with "Pet. Sci." This is the information you will need if you choose to cite this article - it has the journal title, the year it was published, the volume number, and the page numbers.

  • Article title. The title of this article, Bayesian seismic multi-scale inversion in complex Laplace mixed domains provides an extremely brief summary of the article. As you can tell, very technical terms are used in the title - this is common in scholarly journal articles.

  • Article authors. Did you know that authors of scholarly articles are listed in order of who contributed the most? The first author - sometimes called the "principal investigator" - typically contributes the most.

  • Author credentials. At the bottom of page 694, on the left, we have the author credentials - usually, these credentials include the author's workplace and a way to contact them. Sometimes, credentials appear right below the authors' names.

  • Abstract.An abstract is a short summary of the article - an abstract is usually about a paragraph long. Reading an abstract is a good way to determine if the article will meet your information needs.

    Sometimes you will also see the article's abstract included in a library research database.

  • Introduction. The introduction to a scholarly article describes the topic or problem that the authors researched. They usually provide some context about why they think their topic is important.

    The part that usually appears immediately after the introduction is something called a literature review. This is an overview of related research and findings, and it usually helps provide some additional context about why the authors are pursuing this topic. For example, maybe the authors' findings disprove someone else's findings.

    Tip: Introductions and literature reviews are not always clearly labeled, but most scholarly articles follow this general format (introduction followed by a literature review).

Here are the sections we discussed on 709.

  • The body of the article.The body of an article is usually made up of several sections. We've talked about the abstract, introduction, and literature review, but some of the other sections you will often see are:

    • Methods: how the authors conducted their research, and how participants were selected
    • Results: what their research found - usually in highly technical terms
    • Discussion: interprets the results (if you're not an expert on a topic, you might find this more useful than the results section)
    • Limitations: Research never goes perfectly! This section usually details any circumstances that need to be considered as you think about the article. For example, maybe the authors couldn't find many participants.
    • Conclusion

    You won't always see these labels in a scholarly article, but most articles follow a similar structure.

  • Charts, graphs, and equations. It's pretty common for scholarly articles to have charts, graphs, tables, and/or equations. Usually, these images are related to the results of the authors' experiments, but sometimes you'll see these used for other reasons.

    Unfortunately, scholarly articles rarely have photographs in them.

  • References. Most scholarly articles cite other people's work - you'll find citations in the text of the article, and in a reference list at the end of the article.

    Scholarly articles usually have several citations because the article is part of a larger "conversation." The people that are cited in an article might have:

    • Provided a foundation for the authors' research
    • Done a similar but not identical study
    • Found different results than the authors

    An article's reference list can be a good way to find related sources on your topic.