Reading and Note Taking

How to Read a Journal Article

Journal articles can be challenging to read, but most contain many of the same components. Once you understand the structure of each article, understanding the content is much simpler.

Journal articles normally contain the following parts. For each part, try to identify the following:

Abstract

  • The abstract is normally one paragraph that appears before the article.
  • The abstract provides a summary of the entire article
  • You should read it carefully to determine the following:
    •  What topic are the authors studying?
    • What was their primary finding?

Literature Review

  • The literature review is often at the beginning of the article. You can identify it because it contains citations, like "(McCloud and Miller, 2008)"
  • The literature review provides information about past studies that have been done on this topic
  • You should read it carefully to determine the following:
    • What are some of the most important past findings on this topic?
    • How have these past studies led the authors to do this particular study?

Methods

  • The methods section follows the literature review. It can often be identified because it will have a title of "methods" or "methodology"
  • The methods section provides information about the individuals that the authors studied and the way that they conducted their analysis
  • You should read it carefully to determine the following:
    • Who were the participants in this sample? What makes them unique?
    • Is the sample a good representation of the entire population? If not, how are they different?
    • Is the study qualitative (based on interviews, ethnography, participant observation, or content analysis), quantitative (based on statistical analysis), or multi-method (includes both qualitative and quantitative analysis)
  • Please note: you are not expected to understand the exact methodology used to analyse the study, but you should be able to answer the above questions

Results

  • The results section follows the methods. It will often have the title "results" or "findings"
  • The results section provides information about what the authors found when they analysed their data
  • You should read it carefully to determine the following:
    • What were some of the authors' main findings?
    • Please note: you are not expected to be able to read the tables/graphs or to understand the numbers provided by the authors. Instead, you should focus on the text of the results section.

Conclusion/Discussion

  • The conclusion or discussion section follows the results section. It will often have the title "conclusion" or "discussion"
  • The conclusion or discussion section summarizes the authors' main findings and explains why the findings are so important
  • You should read it carefully to determine the following:
    • What were the authors' overall findings?
    • Why are these findings important?
    • What limitations of the study do the authors identify (if any)?
    • What suggestions for future research do the authors make (if any)?
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