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How to Research: Read & Critique Scholarly Articles

Just getting started on a research paper or project? Don't know where to start? This is the guide for you!

Read & Critique Scholarly Articles

Reading and critiquing scholarly research articles is a skill developed with time and practice.

As you read more within your discipline you'll likely discover patterns in the structure of the journal articles.  You'll also get more experienced at differentiating between good and bad articles.

Structure of a Scholarly Article

Journal articles, particularly research articles in the sciences and social sciences, tend to follow a very similar structure.  You may see some or all of the following headings:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction or Background
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Don't feel that you have to read research articles from beginning to end. The best strategy may be to read the abstract and then skip to the conclusions section, in order to get a feel for the main points of the article.

While journal articles in the humanities don't usually follow the structure noted above, you will at a minimum still see an Introduction and a References or Works Cited list.

Questions to Ask

The following questions may be helpful in determining whether you are reading a good scholarly article:

  • Is the research question clearly stated (in a humanities paper, this will be the thesis statement)? Does it seem significant?
  • Has the new research been framed well within the existing research? In other words, is there evidence of a literature review and does it seem complete?
  • Is the researcher's methodology clearly laid out? Does it seem appropriate for the research problem?
  • Do the researcher's conclusions make sense, given the results reported or the evidence presented? Are there any inconsistencies? Any apparent biases in the data or evidence?
  • Have limitations to the research or argument been identified?
  • Does the References list appear accurate and complete?