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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.

The Humanities Exception

Exceptions to this format are usually found in articles in the Humanities - Arts, History, Philosophy, and Literature - since these disciplines don't usually conduct experimental studies. Articles in the Humanities can still be considered 'scholarly' (though this may be harder to determine) and can often be read narratively since they don't include large sections of data.

What is "Peer Review"?

"Peer Review" means than an article has been reviewed by several other researchers and experts in the field, and these experts have provided specific feedback to the original authors, after which the authors revise their article (often several times).

Peer review is very intensive and can take months, so a study that has been peer-reviewed indicates a high level of authority and reliability. Most library databases allow you to limit a search to just peer-reviewed articles.

Parts of a Research Article

Most scholarly research articles follow a specific format with the following sections. These sections will always be in this order in a research article:

  • Abstract – A quick summary of the entire article.
  • Introduction – The purpose/hypothesis of the study is stated, and previous research relating to the current experiment is reviewed. (“What We Already Know, and What We Want to Find Out”)
  • Methodology – A very precise accounting how the study was carried out - who were the subjects, under what conditions were they tested, etc. (“What We Did”)
  • Results – The data from the study. Often presented with dense mathematical formulas, and with charts, graphs, or other visual representations. (“Our Numbers”)
  • Discussion – A narrative review of the data and whether it proved or disproved the original thesis. (“What We Found Out and Why We Think It’s Important”)
  • Conclusion – Usually re-states the results in more straightforward language and discusses future directions for research. (“What We Still Don’t Know”)
  • Bibliography – The other research the authors/researchers consulted to understand the issue and design their study.

When it Comes to Research, More is Better

When people receive a serious medical diagnosis, they often want a second opinion. When we are researching, finding several sources is like that second opinion - it lets us confirm what we originally thought, or it brings up a dissenting opinion that is important to take into consideration.

A good rule of thumb is that you should review twice as many sources as you use. That means if your professor is requiring 4 sources for a paper or project, you should be closely reviewing 8-10 sources to determine which ones are the most relevant to your topic.

Serious researchers must do a thorough review of the current state of thinking on a topic. Luckily for us, they leave a clear list of the sources they consulted in their bibliography, which means we can find other relevant articles far more easily. See the "Finding Out More" box on the Reading for Meaning page of this guide for how to find these sources.

Just get all of the sources for your research paper from a Google search. Said no professor ever.



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.