Reading Academic Articles

Most students in their freshman year of college have no idea what it means when their instructor tells them to use a ‘journal article’ as a resource for their paper.

Hopefully this page will start to clear some of the mystery and make it easier to start research for a paper.

To put it most simply:

Journal articles are scholarly papers written by researchers of different subjects.  The journals they appear in are scholarly publications most often focused on a certain field.  The author of the article will tend to write on a topic within that field.

As an example:
American Journal of Animal & Veterinary Sciences ß This is the title of a journal in the field of veterinary sciences.

“Effects of Rumen-Protected Methionine on Dairy Performance and Amino Acid Metabolism in Lactating Cows.”  By Z.B. Yang ß This is an article in the journal explaining the results of research done by the author(s).

Now, how can you know that an article is trustworthy?  Anyone can write a paper and publish it without needing facts on the subject.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you’re looking over a prospective article:

  1. Who wrote the article?  If the author lists all of their credentials, you will be able to see if they are an expert in the field.
  2. Has the author done his/her research on the subject?  You can tell by the references and bibliography included if the author has truly researched for their article.
  3. When was the article written?  Sometimes the time an article was written is important.  If you are writing a paper on current computer technology, it would be better to read a more up to date article than one written in 1984.

When looking for an article in particular, you do not have to read the entire article every time.  Some articles are quite long, and trying to take on that much reading will make research for your paper extremely difficult.

Instead, when you select a journal article to read, you can look at the ‘abstract.’  This is a brief summary of what the paper is about.  It is a good way to see if the article is relevant to your topic without having to read the entire article.

An abstract will usually have the title ‘Abstract’ above it, and tends to look something like this:

A growing number of older adults are finding that retirement is no longer affordable and they must work well into their later years. Unfortunately, over 42 years after passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, age discrimination in the workplace continues to present serious impediments to employment in later life. Using a critical gerontology perspective, this paper reviews the history of work-related age discrimination and analyzes the ADEA and its limited effectiveness at protecting the civil and economic rights of older workers. The authors discuss implications and suggest policy alternatives that would support the employment and enhance the economic well-being of older adults. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Copyright of Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare is the property of Western Michigan University and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts.)

Now, let us say you have found an article you think looks promising, but it seems extremely long.  Again, you don’t have to read the whole piece word for word.  Unless it is a fascinating subject for you, chances are the articles you find will seem dense and difficult to get through.

That isn’t your fault at all!  Most scholarly journal articles are written for others who know a lot about the field already and not the average college student, unfortunately.  There is a solution to this issue.

Skim.  Look for certain words within the article.  Most journals allow you to use a keyword search to look through the article for you.  Take a look at what is written where those words appear.  If you see some good ideas, write them down with the page number so you can remember where you saw them later.

Some good tips to remember as you’re approaching your first journal article so you don’t feel overwhelmed:

  • Read the abstract and introduction.
  • Take the article in small doses at a time.
  • Take plenty of notes!
  • Skim and move on if you don’t find what you’re looking for.

Good luck!