Reading a Journal Article

Reading scholarly articles from high quality academic journals is an essential academic skill to master in order to be able to gain deeper knowledge in our specialist fields, support our own arguments and further our own ideas and research.

Scholarly articles differ from general information on a topic found in books, magazines or websites because they are peer-reviewed, based on research and mostly up-to-date. Peer-reviewed articles guaranty quality because they undergo critique and analysis by other experts in the fields which often requires appropriate modifications to be made as a result. 

However, searching for scholarly articles and navigating through to make sense of them can initially seem quite an arduous task.

In this post, I’ll be sharing ten easy tips to help you get started and make sense of how to approach directly relevant articles to your own research topic or question(s).

#1 – Have a clear topic statement or question in mind before you begin reading.

What exactly are you trying to find out? What specific information are you looking for? Make a note of this where you can clearly see and refer to at the beginning and during your literature search.

#2 – Identify key words

Put these into the database/search fields.

#3 – Read the abstract

In order to decide whether an article is relevant to your topic/research, always read the abstract. An abstract is a great starting point not only because it gives you a brief overview of what the article covers but also because it includes the key terms found in the article, the purpose and methods of the research.

#4 – Start by reading the introduction

In addition to the overview provided in the abstract, an article’s introduction sets out the key ideas to be discussed and will allow you to skim for the key words and ideas that relate to your own research topic or question(s). Although it seems pretty obvious to start here, many students don’t and therefore miss the vital signposts contained within the article introduction.

#5 – Highlight these key ideas/points

In the introduction and further along in the article, highlight the key points and ideas so you are able to easily come back and find them should you need to paraphrase or use them as support and evidence for your own points.

#6 – Check the footnotes made by the article’s author

These usually provide a summary and context on the literature which has already been written about the subject. You can also highlight or bookmark these to look up further information if and when necessary. If an article has gone through peer review, you can be more confident of its findings.

#7 – Skip to the conclusion before you decide to read the full article for detail.

The conclusion section towards the end of the article may also be called a ‘discussion’ which basically tells us what the researcher discovered when doing the study. Looking at this section early on will help you decide whether the article is relevant to your own research earlier rather than later.

#8 – Highlight the findings in the discussion that seem interesting

This will help you tie it to your own research statement/question.

#9 – Go back to the results page in your initial search

Find out further information on the findings you found interesting in the discussion part of articles you’ve read. Take note that,

The method section tells you what kind of research the researcher did, i.e.: qualitative or quantitative.

The author also recommends some other research that their colleagues in the field are also doing or have already done.

#10 – Be sure to look at the reference section at the end

This list along with the accompanying footnotes allow you to read further on the topic and in more detail which is a very important part of any scholarly process.

I hope these 10 tips will help you have a more productive literature search while also making reading scholarly articles easier and more manageable. One of my current course convenors Dr. Jan McArthur from Lancaster University’s department of Education Research says research should be public and help others learn while advancing the level of knowledge in one’s field of study.

Happy article reading!