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.
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.
When looking at an information source, try asking yourself the Five W's.
Currency: the timeliness of the information
Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs
Authority: the source of the information
Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
Purpose: the reason the information exists
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