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Scholarly Communications & Publishing: Reading

Have questions about writing, citing, submitting, publishing, or sharing your scholarly work? This guide can help!

Components of Scholarly Articles

Scholarly articles are usually divided into standardized sections as described below. However, not every article will have every section listed below, and some may have additional sections specific to that article. 

Abstract: Brief summary of the article, including methodology and results. The abstract is a good place to start for determining if the article presents primary (lab or field) or secondary (library) research.

Introduction: Background information about the topic of research, with reasoning for why the study is being done. 

Literature Review: An analysis of previous research on the same topic. The literature review may address how ideas on the topic or research methods have changed over time, trends in previous research, a new interpretation of previous research, and/or gaps in the research where more study is needed.

Methods: How the study was done. The details of the research, including setup and how data was collected. The methods section is another good place to look for information on whether this is a primary or secondary source.

Results/Findings: Presentation of the data from the study. This section often includes charts, tables and graphs as visual representations of the data.

Discussion: Analysis of the data, and how the study relates to existing knowledge of the topic. The authors evaluate whether the results of their study actually answered their research question.

Limitations: The authors point out what questions their research didn't answer and/or other limitations in their research methods.

Conclusion: The authors wrap up the article by discussing how their study adds to the existing knowledge on the topic and outline potential research for further studies.

References: List of resources (articles, books, journals, etc) that authors consulted when developing their research.

Strategies for Reading Scholarly Articles

Read the abstract first: The abstract summarizes the rest of the article and helps you decide whether you want to read the whole thing.

Take notes: If you can, mark up the article with highlights and comments. If you're reading it online, take notes! There's a worksheet below that will help you analyze the author's approach, methods, argument, and contribution to the field.

Don’t be afraid to jump around: Scholarly articles don't have to be read like a book, paragraph by paragraph, line by line. It's okay to skim and scan! 

Read the introduction and conclusion: Learn more about the topic of study and what the authors found out in the process.

Read the methods: What did the authors do to reach their conclusion?

Look at results and charts and graphs: If you're not a statistician, you may not understand the statistical methods used in the methods section. That's okay! Look at the results section--particularly charts and graphs--first to see what the authors found.

Trace citations: Consult the literature review and references for other potential sources to follow up on. 

Evaluating Sources

When looking at an information source, try asking yourself the Five W's

  • Who? Who wrote this? Can you even tell? Are they an authority in this topic? Credentials are important, but first-hand accounts are also important. Most importantly, who stands to benefit if you believe this source?
  • What? What kind of resource is this? Is it an advertisement? Newspaper article? Scholarly research article? Also, what kind of information does it present? Does the content match up with what you already know about this topic? Are there a bunch of advertisements, either related or unrelated to the topic of the article?
  • When? How up to date is the information? And how soon after the event was this published? (We've all seen false reports and misinformation happen shortly after major events like school shootings.) Also, how up to date do you need the information to be? Looking for reviews of classic movies that came out shortly after the cinematic debut versus critical acclaim that came years later can make a big difference.
  • Where? Country of origin?  How different is the information provided by CNN versus BBC versus Al-Jazeera? Also, where is this information in relation to the structure of the website? Is it on the front page? Is it buried?
  • Why? What's the purpose of the source? Is it trying to sell you something? Convince you of something? Also, why are you looking at this source? Entertainment? Medical research? Academic need?

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out of date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining that this is one you will use?
  • Is this source appropriate for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
    • examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? To inform? Teach? Sell? Entertain? Persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? Opinion? Propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

By scoring each category on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 = worst, 10=best possible) you can give each site a grade on a 50 point scale for how high quality it is!

45 - 50 Excellent | 40 - 44 Good | 35 - 39 Average | 30 - 34 Borderline Acceptable | Below 30 - Unacceptable

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