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Research Toolkit

How Do I Read This Stuff?

The materials here offer strategies for reading sources.

Considering Purpose & Source Type

When developing your reading strategy consider your information need and the type of source you are reading.

  • Your purpose for reading will also influence whether if it more useful to skim a source, focus on certain sections, or read the entire source carefully.

  • Keep in mind that different types of sources may also require different kinds of reading.

Scholarly articles can be challenging to read because they often use specialized language and are written for experts in a specific area of study. This page includes tips of reading scholarly sources.

Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

TIP: Keep your research question(s) in mind when reading scholarly articles. It will help you to focus your reading.

Title: With scholarly sources, titles usually describe clearly what the article is about. Titles often include relevant keywords.

Abstract: The abstract is a summary of the author(s)'s research findings. It is often helpful to read the abstract first, in order to determine if you should even bother reading the whole article.

Discussion and Conclusion: Most scientific articles and some articles from the humanities (e.g. literature, history) include a "Discussion" and a "Conclusion" section. Often it helps to read these right after reading the abstract (even though they come at the end of the article). These sections can help you see if this article will meet your research needs. If you don’t think that it will, set it aside.

Introduction: Here you see where the author(s) enter the conversation on this topic. What related research has come before, and how does the author hope to advance the discussion with their current research? The introduction can also help you get more background on the topic.

Methods: Most scientific articles and some articles from the humanities (e.g. literature, history) include a "Methods" section. It explains how the study worked.   In this section, you often learn who and how many participated in the study and what they were asked to do. In the sciences or social sciences, sub-sections might include Materials and Procedure.

Results: Most scientific articles and some articles from the humanities (e.g. literature, history) include a "Results" section. In the results section (sometimes called Data), there are often many numbers and tables. If you are not a whiz at statistics, you can actually skip this section, unless you plan to replicate or modify the project methodology yourself (in which case, you might need to brush up on your statistics). The Discussion or Conclusion section provides the necessary summary of these results.

References: The outside sources an author used are usually listed at the end of an article; they may be called "References," "Works Cited," or "Bibliography." As you read the References page, look for sources that look like they will help you to answer your own research question. Strong research usually cites many different kinds of sources (books, journal articles, etc.). Train yourself to notice the differences between source types in your field’s citation style. 

Activity

Reading Scholarly Articles (interactive tutorial)