To read a scholarly article, you will need a basic understanding of how research articles are structured. However, the structure of the article will be affected by the nature of the research being reported. For example, research papers in science typically follow a standard format that includes sections for introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion (see annotated map of this type of paper in "Anatomy of a Scholarly Article"). However, the nature and range of research approaches related to information technology produces articles with more variation in structure. For example, a design science research article, reporting on the development and evaluation of an artifact, will have section labels appropriate to that type of research.
While some articles may label the sections differently, the main sections you will often find within a research article include:
Research articles have a formal structure that allows you to move from section to section easily. The key to effective reading of research articles is to use this formal structure to your advantage.
Tip 1. Do not read the article sequentially from first page to last. This will only get you bogged down in the details, and make it difficult to make overall sense of it.
Tip 2. Do read the following sections in order: abstract, introduction, discussion, and any tables and graphs.
Gives you a quick, easy to understand overview of the research goals and findings.
Skim the background (literature review). Focus on finding the purpose of the research, and any hypotheses being tested.
If different from the abstract, go with the information given in the Introduction.
Explains what was found (or how successful the study was), and any problems encountered by the researchers.
If different from the abstract, go with the information given in the Discussion.
Provides data about the study population and the results (statistics).
Tip 3. Do read the entire article sequentially, AFTER you have scanned the sections above and IF you have decided to include it in your literature review.
Pearl growing is a research technique that uses one relevant article as the basis for finding other relevant articles.
If you found only a few good articles on your topic, take a close look at their references (citations). A single good article is much like a precious pearl. Its subject headings and sometimes the words in its title or abstract may give you ideas for making more and better searches.
The first thing you do is find one relevant article, using either a keyword search or a subject search in the database of your field.
As you read the article you chose, highlight new keywords, the names of frequently cited researchers, book titles, related theories, unique phrases, associations, assessments, and websites.
Use new keywords, unique phrases, assessments, and related theories as keyword searches in your database of choice. They may lead you to other articles of interest.
To find other articles written by frequently cited researchers, open the database of your field, go to the advanced search page, and type in the researcher's last name and first initial. Change the drop-down menu to "Author" and search. Your results will include articles written by that researcher.
To find books whose titles appear in your article, open the library catalog, type in the title of the book, change the drop-down menu to "Title" and search. If we have the book, write down the call number and check the book out. If we don't have the book, use ILL to borrow the book from another library.
Return to your original article. Read the article again, highlighting pertinent passages that include in-text citations. Follow each highlighted citation to its partner in the reference list.
Use Journal Finder to find out if the library has a referenced article. You will need the title of the journal and the year the article was published in it. If we have the journal, there will be a link to the journal and you can search it for the article you need. If we don't have the journal, you can request an interlibrary loan.
To find books whose titles appeared in the reference list, open the library catalog, type in the title of the book, change the drop-down menu to "Title" and search. If we have the book, write down the call number and check the book out. If we don't have the book, use ILL to borrow the book from another library.
Your next step is to pearl grow another relevant article, and then another.... By the time you're done, you'll have a clear understanding of the literature surrounding your research problem.
Karl E. Mundt Library, Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota 57042