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Melissa Vetter, Subject Librarian

Biology, Psychological & Brain Sciences, Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology and (Interim) Philosophy Subject Librarian (Olin Library)

How to Read Scholarly Scientific Articles

A scholarly paper can be difficult to read. Instead of reading straight through, try focusing on the different sections and asking specific questions at each point.

What is your research question? 

When you select an article to read for a project or class, focus on your topic. Look for information in the article that is relevant to your research question. 

Read the Abstract first as it covers basics of the article. Questions to consider: 

  • What is this article about? What is the working hypothesis or thesis?
  • Is this related to my question or area of research?

Second: Read the Introduction and Discussion/Conclusion. These sections offer the main argument and hypothesis of the article. Questions to consider for the introduction: 

  • What do we already know about this topic and what is left to discover?
  • What have other people done in regards to this topic?
  • How is this research unique?
  • Will this tell me anything new related to my research question?

Questions for the discussion and conclusion: 

  • What does the study mean and why is it important?
  • What are the weaknesses in their argument?
  • Is the conclusion valid?

Next: Read about the Methods/Methodology. If what you've read addresses your research question, this should be your next section. Questions to consider:

  • How did the author do the research? Is it a qualitative or quantitative project?
  • What data are the study based on?
  • Could I repeat their work? Is all the information present in order to repeat it?

Finally: Read the Results and Analysis. Now read the details of this research. What did the researchers learn? If graphs and statistics are confusing, focus on the explanations around them. Questions to consider: 

  • What did the author find and how did they find it?
  • Are the results presented in a factual and unbiased way?
  • Does their analysis agree with the data presented?
  • Is all the data present?
  • What conclusions do you formulate from this data? (And does it match with the Author's conclusions?)

Review the References (anytime): These give credit to other scientists and researchers and show you the basis the authors used to develop their research.  The list of references, or works cited, should include all of the materials the authors used in the article. The references list can be a good way to identify additional sources of information on the topic. Questions to ask:

  • What other articles should I read?
  • What other authors are respected in this field?
  • What other research should I explore?

How to Read Arts & Humanities Articles

It is often quicker to read an article out of order to help you decide if it is relevant. Here are some questions to keep in mind when reading. How does this article relate to what I am interested in? What is unique or unusual about the findings in the article? How is the research supported in this article? What is the main focus? And what do I already know about this topic?

Start with the Abstract this gives you a short summary of the contents of the article, typically outlining its purpose and findings.

Next: Jump down to the Conclusion section. The conclusion summarizes the main points, highlights implications of the research and suggests possibilities for future research. If the article seems like it is worthwhile based on reading these two sections you can go back and read the introduction.

Next: The Introduction outlines the problem being discussed and sets the stage for the rest of the article. In the Arts and Humanities the introduction will often include a review of previous literature on the topic, which helps put the entire article and the reasoning for the research into context. Moving on to the body of the article, this will give you more specific details about the arguments being made. At this point you will have read the majority of the article, but it doesn’t hurt to re-read it from the beginning to make sure you have a full picture.

Finally (or at any time), take a look at the Reference section, this can lead you to more sources that you can use for your research and indicates the depth and breadth of what was researched for the article.

Once more, reading the article out of order can make it easier for you to know whether or not it is relevant to you and your research.