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Parts of a Scholarly Article

  1. The title provides a snapshot of what the research’s goal was. 
  2. The authors are also visible – by hovering over or selecting their names, their affiliated institutions can be viewed.
  3. The abstract is a summary of the article.
  4. The keywords are selected by the author and tells the reader the major topics of the piece.
  5. The introduction provides background information about the research question and goals as well as the need for the research. It usually describes other relevant research.
  6. The methods section clearly describes how the study or review was conducted. This section tends to have lots of details as it is a critical component of sharing a study that is reproducible and replicable.
  7. The results report on the findings of the research. It may have graphs, tables, or images to illustrate the evidence.
  8. The discussion or conclusion is where the authors make conclusions based on the results. It should connect those results to the questions posed in the introduction, and it may describe limitations of the research and suggest future studies needed.
  9. Finally, the reference list is a list of the literature the authors referred to in theirs.

For a visual description, please see "Anatomy of a Scholarly Article" created by the North Carolina State University Libraries linked in the image below.

Strategies for Reading

When reading a scholarly article, we do not read it like a novel. We identify the key sections and words, skim each part, and take notes while we read. Learning to take notes while reading an article will help you to ask think critically about the ideas presented and to review your own comprehension, so you can begin to build your professional knowledge. Professional knowledge informs future opportunities such as grant applications, program implementations, and policy recommendations. It also helps you write your papers more quickly and participate in class discussions. Throughout this section, I will provide some questions to consider when you read each part of the article.

  1. To begin with, read the introduction. Reading the introduction first reduces bias and encourages critical analysis of the need for the study. If you do not have enough time to read the introduction in whole, you can limit this to read the first paragraph and the last paragraph of the introduction. As you read the introduction, ask yourself – what is the question that this article is seeking to answer? Is there a clear need for an answer to the question(s) established? Here, you should also identify if they say how they are going to answer the question. Before you move on, write a short, no more than five sentences summary of what this section described, such as previous studies mentioned, the rationale behind this research, and the questions to be answered.
  2. Next, we’ll look at the methods. Make sure you identify what type of study they did and to highlight any major headings inside of this section – you’ll want to write this down to help you through the results section. Be sure to look at the details of which variable was studied in the subjects. Think: could this study be easily recreated?
  3. Move on to the results. It is important to not yet make meaning out of the results – think carefully, what do the graphs, tables, or images say? Write it down if you have a question. Look for words like “effect”, “significant”, or “not significant.” Write a short summary of the results for yourself.
  4. Read the conclusion. Some articles may also call this the discussion. When reading, ask yourself: do you agree with these conclusions? Are there additional or alternative interpretations? Do you envision any possible research? What limitations did they not mention? What were the strengths in it? It’s especially key to critically appraise this section as it could have implications for future programs, studies, and policies in public health.
  5. Finally, review the abstract. This is a great time to match your understanding to what the author’ goal was. Were the conclusions reasonable? If it doesn’t match your understanding, why do you think that is? You can look back and see if you missed a key part.

What is a Scholarly Article?

Scholarly articles are:

  • Peer-reviewed
  • Written by and for experts in a discipline to share information 

What is peer review? Being peer-reviewed indicates that the article was critically evaluated by other experts in the same discipline and went through an editorial review before publication. This process provides researchers and practitioners with a trusted, reliable way to share quality research.  

Why read them? The ability to read and comprehend a scholarly article is an essential part of being an innovative, effective, and successful public health practitioner, researcher, or medical professional. This skill will help you stay up to date on the trends in your field and to critically analyze the progress being made. This page describes a strategy for reading scholarly articles efficiently – your speed of reading will likely increase as you practice throughout your degree program.

Further Reading

These recommendations were adapted from Dr. Raff's, "How to Read and Understand a Scientific Paper: a guide for non-scientists" and RV Subramanyam's, "Art of Reading a Journal Article: Methodically and Effectively."

Subramanyam's piece includes more possible questions to ask as you read, below.

Raff J. How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists. LSE Impact Blog. 2016. 

Subramanyam R. Art of reading a journal article: Methodically and effectively. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. 2013;17(1):65-70. doi:10.4103/0973-029X.110733

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