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    How to Read an Academic Article

    by Meghan Kowalski on 2024-02-28T08:00:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

    In academic research, we often use academic journal articles, but they can be difficult to read and work with. In this post, we’re going to break them down: What are they? How are they structured? How do you read them?


    What’s an academic article?

    First, a quick refresher on what an academic article is. (You might also hear them called scholarly articles or peer-reviewed articles.)

    • Academic articles are published in scholarly journals, where authors who are experts in their fields present new research or ideas. Scholarly journals focus on specific subject areas.
    • We use these types of articles in academic discussions and in college-level research assignments, when we need to know what researchers are saying about a topic.
    • The articles published in scholarly journals undergo a peer-review process, where other experts in a field review potential articles to determine whether they will get published and suggest improvements. The goal is to maintain high quality standards.

    Academic articles are most often accessed through the library, in subscription-based online electronic databases. Here at the UDC Library, the entire list of databases that students, faculty, and staff have access to is on the A-Z Resource List.


    What’s in academic articles?

    Articles can vary in content, but you will typically find the following in an academic article:

    • Abstract: A short summary of the article.
    • Introduction and Literature Review: A description of the issue the authors studied and background on previous research in the area. This section explains how this research relates to the topic and the previous research in this field. This is usually where you’ll find the authors’ research questions.
    • Methods: A discussion of how the authors conducted the research. How did they collect data? What kind of data did they collect? How did they analyze it?
    • Results: The authors’ analysis of their data. This might include statistical analysis, data tables or charts, or some other visualization of the data.
    • Discussion: The authors’ interpretation and analysis of their findings, where they will state why they think they found what they did, what their results might mean, and what their work tells us about the topic.
    • Conclusion: A recap of the research, its findings, and the authors’ analysis and interpretation. Often, authors will suggest potential future areas of research based on questions that their research raised.
    • References: The list of all the sources the authors used in their research, with full citations that include all the information a reader would need to find the source on their own.


    How to read an academic article

    Academic articles can be intimidating! They’re long, usually not very visually appealing, and use complicated or specialized vocabulary. Here are some strategies to make reading these articles easier.  

    The first thing to do is figure out whether an article is going to be useful or relevant for your research. Is it one that you really want to spend a lot of time with and dig in on, or should you move on to other articles because it’s not that useful after all?

    • Before you spend time reading the whole article, assess the article by reading the abstract, which summarizes the article. It will help you understand whether this article is relevant to your research. Reading the abstract can also help you search for sources, because you might find useful terminology or keywords to use in your searches for additional sources.
    • If the abstract suggests that the article won’t be useful, there’s no need to read on—you can move on to other sources.
    • If the abstract seems promising, flip toward the end of the article to the discussion and conclusion sections. Those sections will provide more information on the main arguments and conclusions and help us further determine the article’s relevance to our work.
    • If those sections look good, it’s time to read the rest of the article in more depth. At this stage, use the headings and subheadings of the article to navigate through it and break it down into more manageable chunks.

    A diagram of a method

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    If you have any questions about reading or finding articles, get in touch with us at or schedule an appointment.

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