Exploratorium. (n.d.). Sharing findings: The anatomy of a peer-reviewed paper. Retrieved June 5 2014 from http://www.exploratorium.edu/evidence
On your first reading of an empirical article, you can be selective in terms of what sections you want to read. During this first reading you do not want to read the article like a novel from cover to back, as this will be inefficient.
The following order in general should be used the first time you evaluate/read an article:
At this point, you can stop and decide if the article suits your needs. If yes, continue:
Then re-read the article as a whole from Introduction to Discussion
A very short concise summary of the main points of the article. Usually contains an explanatory sentence regarding the logic behind the research, the research questions, who/what is being studied and how, and their main findings.
This is always the first section of an article and may or may not be labeled "Introduction" or "literature review"
As the name implies, this section will introduce and provide the background knowledge and research (literature review and key terminology) behind the research topic in question. This section is critical for understanding the topic, its history, key studies, and the rationale behind the current research.
Often in the final paragraphs, the authors will spell out their exact research question and if applicable, the hypotheses being addressed in this paper.
Also known as Materials or Research Design. Contains information on the subjects (participants) and specific enough information about HOW things were studied or manipulated (including specialized tools and techniques) that another researcher would be able to replicate the experiment.
Although this section is usually found following the introduction, in some journals the Methods and Materials will be provided at the end of the paper before the References or as an Appendix.
The Results (or Findings) section contains all of the information about the data that was collected during the experiment. This section is often really dense and contains very little in terms of explanatory sentences. To save space, a lot of the results (main and supplementary) will be displayed in the form of Figures or Tables.
Reading this section is essential in understanding exactly what data was collected, the statistics used, if they were appropriate, and the actual results of the tests.
The Discussion section is where the authors, using the literature, will interpret the results/findings of their study and draw conclusions.
Often the authors will also acknowledge the known or theoretical limitations of their study and will end by proposing future directions for research on their topic.
Since the authors' are interpreting their results and providing their own opinion of the findings, not absolute facts, it is essential that you are critical of the conclusions the authors are making.
Throughout the article, the researchers have provided in-text citations to already published research. In the References section, the full bibliographic information for each citation is provided so that readers can use this information to locate each reference.
This section is very useful in helping one understand the background and history of the research questions and what has been tried in the past or investigated. The References cited are also highly likely to be related or relevant to the topic at hand and is an efficient way to find additional scholarly information on a specific research topic.
Note: if there is no Reference section (or Works Cited or Bibliography or extensive footnotes with complete citations), then the article would NOT be considered scholarly.
Reading a scholarly article is more challenging than reading a newspaper, magazine, or blog. In order to fully understand the contents, a scholarly article will have to be re-read several times (even experienced researchers have to re-read articles)!
Some of the challenges:
Some important tools to have on-hand to make reading an article so much easier: