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How to Read a Scholarly Article

Gathering information from a scholarly article is different from reading a popular article. Most of the time you do not need to read a scholarly article from start to finish in order to understand what it's about. On your first reading of the article, you just need to be concerned with whether the article contains information useful for your research. To do this, you should focus on the following:

  • AbstractsThese one or two-paragraph summaries at the beginning of the article give you the highlights of the article and the author's findings.
  • IntroductionThe author introduces the research and may mention other work that has been done on the topic, which could be useful later.
  • Conclusion/Discussion: This is where the author discusses what she discovered during her research.
  • ReferencesThese are sources that the author used, so if this author found them useful, you probably will too.

There may be other parts of the article too, like a Methods or Results section. You will focus on those in later readings. You should read through an article more than once before before using it in your own research.

Rereading the Scholarly Article

Reading through an article once allows you to understand the main ideas of the article. The second or third readings of the article should be in more detail, and are typically from start to finish. They will allow you to pull more details from the article and identify specific elements you'll use later to support your own paper or project. During these readings you should concentrate on the following questions:

  • What is the author's main argument?
  • Does the author agree or disagree with the other research I have found?
  • What evidence does he/she provide? Is the argument well supported?
  • Do the author's conclusions flow logically from his/her argument and evidence?

Popular vs. Scholarly Journals


Popular Journals (Magazines and Newspapers)

Scholarly, Academic, or Peer-Reviewed Journals

Title May have magazine or popular words in the title (Entertainment Weekly, BusinessWoman); popular or catchy titles May have bulletin, journal, or review in the title (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Journal of Water Conservation); titles related to research or results, sometimes long and not catchy


Reporters, journalists, staff-written.

Researchers, scholars, professors in the field or specialty with university affiliations. Frequently multiple co-authors.


Inform, persuade, entertain with a variety of general interest topics in broad subject fields. Also geared to sell products through advertising.

To inform or report original research in a specific field to the rest of the scholarly world.


General public, uses simple language to meet minimum education levels.     

Researchers, experts, students in the field; readers are assumed to have a scholarly background

Availability Can be found on a newsstand or in a book store or library; can sometimes be found online without subscription access Not found on newsstand; requires subscription or library access

Writing Style and Vocabulary

Simple, accessible writing and vocabulary

Sophisticated, high-level writing; technical, discipline-specific vocabulary

Abstracts None Usually have an abstract at the beginning that summarizes the research


Not cited; no bibliography

Cited with footnotes or bibliography



Few to no ads; announcements for conferences, publications in the field


Photographs, glossy covers     

Plain covers; charts, tables, statistical data


Commercial, for-profit   

Professional society, university, or non-profit organization

Frequency of Publication Frequent; weekly, biweekly, or monthly Less frequent; monthly, quarterly, or semiannually



Yes, articles must meet rigorous standards and be reviewed by a panel of experts before being accepted for publication



New York Times

Sports Illustrated

The Economist

The Week

New England Journal of Medicine

International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies

Journal of African American History

Pacific Historical Review

Modern Fiction Studies