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Reading a Scholarly Article

This guide discusses the parts of a scholarly article and provides tips on how to read one.

Common Parts of Scholarly / Research Articles

Note:  Not all articles contain all components.

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Abstract

An abstract is a summary of the entire article, which is provided so that readers examining the article can decide quickly whether the article meets their needs. It will contain a description of the problem and problem setting; an outline of the study, experiment, or argument; and a summary of the conclusions or findings. The abstract is always at the beginning of the article and will either be labeled "abstract" or will be set apart from the rest of the article by a different font or margins.

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Introduction

The introduction summarizes the article’s main idea, thesis, or research question. It should answer the question, "Why this?" and includes background knowledge on the topic and provides information about research motivations, impact, or purpose. 

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Literature Review

The literature review places the research in context with prior work. It analyzes important contributions that the author(s) believe are relevant and that the article builds upon to create new knowledge. Sometimes, it includes a theoretical framework. The literature review may appear as its own section or as part of the introduction.

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Methods / Methodology

The methods or methodology section discusses how the author(s) went about doing their research.

  • In science or social science articles, it should let you know (a) what method they used to gather data (survey, interviews, experiments, etc.), (b) why they chose the method, and (c) what the limitations are to the method.
  • In humanities (language, art, history) articles, this section may not be labeled as methods, but pay attention to (a) the researcher's perspective and (b) theories (“-isms”) applied.

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Discussion / Results

The discussion or results section is where the author(s) write about what they found and what they think it means. It typically includes an examination of the meaning and implications of the research for existing and future exploration.

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Conclusion / Recommendations

The final section is usually called the conclusion or recommendations. Here is where the authors summarize what they found, why they think their research is significant and, if appropriate, make recommendations about future actions or future research that needs to be conducted. In some cases, the conclusion is part of the discussion section.

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References / Bibliography / Notes

Most papers provide citations to other research throughout the text (in parenthesis or as footnotes), as well as a list of references or bibliography or notes at the end of the paper. Each reference listed there corresponds to one of the citations provided in the body of the paper. You can use this list of references to find additional scholarly articles and books on your topic.

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