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:
Most scholarly research articles follow a specific format with the following sections. These sections will always be in this order in a research article:
Everyone is familiar with Oreo cookies – dry crumbly cookies around a delicious middle.
Scholarly articles are structured in the reverse of an Oreo, meaning that the “good stuff” is on the outside: the Abstract, Introduction, the Discussion, and the Conclusion. These sections are usually in simpler, more direct language, and speak clearly to the purpose of the study, what the results were, and what the implications of the findings might be.
The “dry stuff” is on the inside of the article – the Methodology and the Results. A key point of the scientific method is that results must be able to be repeated to be considered valid, so the Methodology section shows exactly how the study might be reproduced, but sheds little light on the “big picture” (unless you’re actually going to replicate the experiment).
The statistical analyses in the Results are important, but is just the math verifying the significance of the results.
SO - Read the Introduction, Discussion and Conclusion first. Skip the middle sections (Methodology and Results) until you have a handle on the purpose and findings of the study. Then go back and re-read the article with these sections. Now that you know what the researchers were trying to find out, the data, charts, and graphs will make more sense.
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!
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