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Research Help Guide: How to Read a Scholarly Article

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Quick Summary: Article Autopsy Worksheet

When reading scholarly literature, read strategically. Scan articles before reading in depth, focusing on the elements that will give you the information you need first. This will quickly let you know what the article is about and its relevancy for your research. It will also prepare you for when you’re ready to read the full article, giving you a mental map of its structure and purpose.

Use this handout to help you read and understand your article: 

Article Autopsy Worksheet

When reading scholarly literature, read strategically. Scan articles before reading in depth, focusing on the elements that will give decorativeyou the information you need first. This will quickly let you know what the article is about and its relevancy for your research. It will also prepare you to later read the full article, giving you a mental map of its structure and purpose.

 

Identify​ ​These​ ​Elements:

The​ ​Article​ ​Title.

The​ ​Journal​ ​Name.​ At a glance, it should match the discipline you’re working within. For more information, look it up. Is it scholarly? Reputable? What’s the scope?

The​ ​Abstract.​ This is a synopsis of the article. Its purpose is to help you decide at a glance if the article suits your research. If it isn’t relevant, continue searching.

The​ ​Research​ ​Question.​ ​This is not a specific section, but it will normally be stated within the abstract or the first few paragraphs. The research question is the scholarly question the author was investigating: it’s the “why” of the article.

The​ ​Conclusion.​ Read the conclusion before reading the whole article to see if it will be worth reading. Unlike reading the end of a novel first, this won’t spoil your experience.

Bibliography.​ ​All scholarly articles should have one. References within the text will tell you how the author is engaging within a scholarly conversation. It’s often possible to use the bibliography to find related research.

Date​ ​of​ ​Publication.​ ​Is the article current?

Author.​ ​Who are they? A quick credential check is a great idea. If you have more time, investigate what else they have published, their reputation, and institutional associations.

 

Some​ ​Articles​ ​May​ ​Have​ ​These​ ​Sections:

Discipline.​ ​Are you writing an English paper and this article is from a psychology journal? If so, is it appropriate?

Literature​ ​Review.​ ​The author summarizes relevant research on a topic in a literature review. Literature reviews are very helpful for finding more information and contextualizing the position of this article.

The​ ​Discussion.​ ​This may have a different name. Placed near the start or end of the article, it’s the “why you should care” section. Pay particular attention to the references the author makes, as this is the context for the argument.

Images​ ​and​ ​Data​ ​Visualizations.​ These will tell you at a glance if your author did research that involved data, or what images were important enough to warrant inclusion.

Results.​ ​The results of a study will be relevant for assessing its usefulness. Can you use these results as supporting evidence in your assignment?

Methodology.​ The methodology section can be very technical: it’s the “how” section. Scan it for relevant information and read in depth when you need to: eg. when looking to gain a deep knowledge of the article, when looking to recreate the method used.

 

As​ ​You’re​ ​Reading,​ ​Ask​ ​Yourself:

  • If​ ​you’re​ ​working​ ​on​ ​an​ ​assignment,​ ​how​ ​would​ ​you​ ​use​ ​this​ ​article?​ Does it contain information that will be helpful in answering a research question?

 

  • How​ ​does​ ​this​ ​article​ ​fit​ ​into​ ​the​ ​scholarly​ ​conversation​ ​on​ ​this​ ​topic?​ A scholarly conversation is the discussion between experts about a developing topic, often with different schools of thought. How does this article compare to other, similar articles in your assigned reading?

 

  • Do​ ​you​ ​agree​ ​with​ ​the​ ​author’s​ ​conclusions?​ While you are reading, it is important to be open to learning new concepts. New information can call into question old beliefs.

 

  • What​ ​are​ ​the​ ​weaknesses​ ​of​ ​this​ ​article?​ ​Be prepared to critique the article you are reading, keeping an eye out for flaws in reasoning or poor scholarship.

 

  • What​ ​is​ ​the​ ​author’s​ ​purpose​ ​in​ ​writing?​ Do they have a central argument? Who is the audience?

 

  • Is​ ​this​ ​article​ ​what​ ​you​ ​were​ ​looking​ ​for?​ ​The resources you find while doing research should impact your search strategy. Whether or not this article is relevant to your assignment will help you decide what to search for next.

Online Resources

What is Critical Reading? (University of Leicester, Student Learning Development) 

Critical Reading Towards Critical Writing (University of Toronto, Writing)