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CLI 242

Scholarly Article Sections

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:

  • Title: Provides an Overview  

    Paper titles are usually succinct, stand-alone overviews of a paper's contents. So, if you are new to a field and/or subject, it is useful to take note of the words used in the title as they may provide you with useful keywords to use in any literature searches you may perform.

  • Keywords: Key phrases for study 

    Some journals provide a list of keywords or key phrases (think of these as "tags")  that describe the article such as subject population, outcome measures, models, or methods. The list may provide you with additional words to include in your searches in research databases when seeking literature relevant to your research. 

  •  Abstract: Summarizes the Article

    The purpose of the abstract is to provide the reader with a succinct summary of the article. Thus, the abstract should provide information about the specific research problem being investigated, the methods used, the results obtained, and what the results of the study mean in the larger context of the research study and in some cases the field of study. This means that the abstract is a good place to look first if you are trying to decided whether or not the paper is relevant.

  •  Introduction: Introduces the Paper 

    The introduction section generally provides an overview of the research problem being studied. Hypotheses (both explicit and implicit), design problem, etc. should be clearly presented here. 

  •  Literature Review: Provides a Context for the Paper 

    The literature review discusses past research on the topic in order to give readers a sense of why the research is important, what has been written on the topic in the past, and how this paper will add to the research. In information technology research, there may be a single section labeled "Background and related research" (or something similar) or the literature review may actually be divided into a series of sections, each focused on a different concept relevant to the research.  

  •  Methods Section: Details the Research Methodology 

    If reporting on experimental research, this section will provide detailed information on how the authors accomplished the experiments/surveys described in their paper. For other kinds of research, this section may be labeled differently and may require more than one section (for example, development and evaluation). In any case, it will describe how the research is to be carried out.  

  •  Results: Presents the research findings 

    Data obtained from the study are introduced. Results are typically presented either in the text or in figures/data tables.  Be sure to look at text, figures and tables to see all results.

  •  Discussion/Conclusion: Interprets the research findings 

    Results are interpreted. Results are usually put into a broader research context and incorporated into current knowledge in the field.

  •  Bibliography 

    Even the bibliography represents the scholarship of this article’s author(s). You may not know the field intimately, but you can glance and get a few ideas quickly.


Tips for reading an article

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.

  • Abstract

               Gives you a quick, easy to understand overview of the research goals and findings.

  • Introduction

               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.

  • Discussion

               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.

  • Tables and Graphs

               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.

Citation Pearl Searching

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.

Step One

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.

Step Two

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.

Step Three

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