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How to Read a Scholarly Article

A guide to help students and new researchers to understanding the parts of a scholarly article.

Reading for Meaning

Scholarly articles often have lots of technical language and can be difficult to understand. Here are some tips for figuring out just what the article is saying:

  • Identify the claim.
    • What did the researchers set out to prove? (You will usually find this in the Abstract and the Introduction.)
    • Why are the researchers are studying this specific subject? Is there a gap in our knowledge? New information in the field? A current controversy about this topic?
  • Determine the scope.
    • Who or what are the subjects of the study and what are their characteristics – species, geography, gender, age, ethnicity, etc.
    • How many subjects were there? (Conclusions drawn from a study with a large number of subjects usually have more validity than conclusions from a study with a small number.)
  • Evaluate the method.
    • How did the researchers test their subjects?
    • Under what conditions (observation in natural habitat, lab setting, etc.)?
    • What were the independent and dependent variables in the study?
  • Examine the results.
    • Were they significant (mathematically)?
    • If so, what does this indicate about the hypothesis?
  • Find the gaps.
    • What didn’t the researchers study?
    • What might be the next logical follow-up to this research?
    • Did the researchers identify any shortcomings of the study themselves?
    • If there is an opposing viewpoint or contradictory information, was this acknowledged and addressed head on?
    • How might any problems with the study be avoided in future research?

Finding Out More

No research happens in a bubble – it always connects to a larger group of studies on a subject. In order to understand if their study is finding out something new, researchers must explore what has already been researched about the topic, which also provides the context for their current hypothesis.

This information is usually included in the Introduction, where previous research is cited to show what is already known about the subject, and why this study will add something new. These citations link us to additional information, and are often an excellent starting place to find multiple sources on a topic.

  • As you read, highlight the sections of text that seem most relevant to your topic and have an in-text citation after them – i.e. (Brown & Miller, 2006).
  • Using the names in the in-text citation, find full citation for the article in the Bibliography. (Scholarly articles will ALWAYS have a bibliography, usually at the end of the article, but sometimes in footnotes at the bottom of the page.)
  • Read the title to that article. Does it sound like it supports the current research? Is in opposition to it? If you need more than one source on a topic (which is usually the case) would this be a good article to find and read?
  • If so, find the article using the Full-Text Finder link on the library webpage. Search with the Journal Title from the citation to see if we have the article at the NECC Libraries. Even if we don’t, we can still get it for you through interlibrary loan.

Have Questions? Ask A Librarian!

To cite this LibGuide use the following templates:

APA: Northern Essex Community College Library. (Date updated). Title of page. Title of LibGuide. URL

MLA: Northern Essex Community College Library. "Title of Page." Title of LibGuide, Date updated, URL.