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Advanced research methods: Reading scholarly research

Tips for reading scholarly articles

Scholarly articles in the social sciences/sciences are written by academics and specialists in the field and include findings from primary/original research.  If you don't have time to read a scholarly article from beginning to end, then consider the following approach....

1. Read and consider the article title  

Will give you clues about the topic: Does it tell me enough to see if the article reflects my research needs or interests? Does it include: a description? an equation? a process? a theory? a situation? 

2. Scan the headings/sections of the article 

What is included: a literature review? research goals or questions? information on research methods? results, findings or need for further research?

 3. Read the abstract

This is the summary of the article, usually dense with information. 

  • A good abstract should always say why the study was conducted, how it was done, what was found, and why the findings are important
  • Usually provides: the problem under investigation, characteristics of the participants, the study method, and the findings

Newer articles may include keywords supplied by the author(s).  Scan these
keywords to:

  • give you additional information about the scope of the article
  • help you develop search terms for database searches

Ask yourself: is the article relevant for your research topic? 

 4. Read the first few paragraphs of the Discussion section

This section may also be called the Conclusion

  • will include a summary of the major findings from the study
  • will interpret the results
  • will explain why findings are important to the field of study
  • will highlight limitations of the study and recommend possibilities for
  • future research

Ask yourself: is the article still relevant for your research topic? 

 5.  Read the remaining sections of the article.
Suggested order of reading: Introduction, Results, then the Methods section.

Before you read a section, take the heading and convert into a question.  This will set  the context for what you will learn in that section.  Seek out the answer to this question as you read the section. 

Introduction: Read it carefully - spend time here!  The Introduction will provide background information about the topic and summarize previous research in the area.  Make note of the hypothesis found in the Introduction section and how it relates to the research design.

Results: includes statistical analysis & information concerning any problems i.e. missing data and discussion of any implications.

Method: provides participant characteristics, sampling procedures, sample size, and research design.

 6.  Re-read the abstract and discussion section   

 7.  Examine the References   

Make note of other relevant studies on the topic and locate these publications through Library databases. It may be that some of the References will include pdf attachments!