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Read a scholarly article

The Structure of Scholarly Articles

Understanding the structure of scholarly articles is probably the most important part of understanding the article. The following structure is used in most scholarly articles, with the exception of (a) articles which are entirely literature reviews and (b) humanities articles. 

These sections may not always be labeled this way, and sometimes multiple sections will be merged into one (like the introduction & literature review). 

Article sections in the order in which they appear

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review (sometimes not labeled)
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion / Conclusion

Article sections in order of importance

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review (sometimes not labeled)
  • Discussion / Conclusion
  • Methodology
  • Results

You should always read...

The Abstract

The abstract is usually a one-paragraph summary of the article. If the article doesn't seem useful after reading the abstract, don't read any further.

The Introduction & Literature Review

The introduction and literature review will help you understand:

  • What the authors are writing about (their research questions)
  • Why the authors are writing about this topic
  • What others have written on this topic

The Discussion & Conclusion

The discussion and conclusion are at the end (just before the reference list). If the authors conducted an experiment, these sections should provide a summary of what the authors found, how their findings fit into the larger conversation about the topic, and what they believe should be researched in the future.

You may not need to read...

Methodology & Results

Do you need to read the methodology & results sections? It depends on your purpose for reading the article. You may want to read these sections if:

  • You're using the article as a source in a research paper *

    If you're a first or second year student, or the research paper is on a topic unrelated to your major, you may want to skip over these sections. These sections are the most difficult to understand unless you have a high level of expertise in both the topic and research in your discipline.

    If you're a junior, a senior, or a graduate student, and the article is in your discipline, then you most likely have the level of expertise necessary to understand most of these sections.

  • You're conducting your own research project *

  • You may be required to read this section in a particular class.

    If you're not sure whether you should read these sections, ask your professor.


* Research has two meanings:

  • Doing a thorough investigation of a topic (this would include things like searching Google, doing library research, etc.). When we say "research paper", we're referring to this kind of research.
  • Trying to answer a specific question through experimentation and analysis. When we say "research project", we're referring to this kind of research.

The methodology section:

  • Explains how the authors intend to answer their research questions
  • What kind of data they are going to collect, and from who (or what)
  • How they are going to (or how they did) collect that data

The results section usually involves analysis of the data collected.

Tips

  • Search Google or Wikipedia for unfamiliar terms or concepts
  • Ask your professor for help with other questions

Here's a real-life example:

  1. Researchers wanted to know whether pet ownership and/or medication had the best effects on high blood pressure caused by stress.
  2. They tested this by having some participants adopt a pet and take a medication, while others just took medication.
  3. The data they collected included blood pressure readings.
  4. They analyzed this data using statistical methods.

Source: Allen, K., Shykoff, B. E., & Izzo Jr, J. L. (2001). Pet ownership, but not ACE inhibitor therapy, blunts home blood pressure responses to mental stress. Hypertension, 38(4), 815-820.

Other Important Sections to Review

These parts of a scholarly article probably won't contribute to your understanding of the article, but they're helpful in other ways:

References / Bibliographies

If you've read the introduction and literature review, you may have come across some sources that might be useful for your topic. All their sources should be at the end of the article or in footnotes! Check out our guide on finding sources using bibliographies.

Citation information

Many articles have the journal title, volume and issue numbers, and page numbers listed right on the article. This information is usually at the top of the first page of the article.

Author credentials

Author credentials are usually listed on the first page of the article, underneath the authors' names, or listed as footnotes. These credentials usually indicate where the authors work. This should help if you want to contact the authors with questions!

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