In the last edition, “Understanding Research Articles Part I” explained the sections commonly found in research articles and explained further that reading a scientific paper is very different from reading an article in a newspaper or blog. The second part of this article provides you with tips to help you better understand how to read research articles.
Here are a few suggestions for how to read/ the order to read a research article:
Tips for Reading a Research Article
- Read the Abstract. The abstract is a brief summary of the research questions and methods. It may also state the findings. Because it is short and often written in dense psychological language, you may need to read it a couple of times. Try to restate the abstract in your own nontechnical language. It is ok to take notes and re-read as necessary.
- Read the Introduction. This is the beginning of the article, appearing first after the Abstract. This contains information about the authors' interest in the research, why they chose the topic, their hypothesis, and methods. This section also usually defines key terms used throughout the article.
- Read the Discussion section. Skip over the Methods section for the time being. The Discussion section will explain the main findings in great detail and discuss any methodological problems or flaws that the researchers discovered.
- Read the Methods section. Now that you know the results and what the researchers claim the results mean, you are prepared to read about the Methods. This section explains the type of research and the techniques and assessment instruments used.
- Read the Results section. This is the most technically challenging part of a research article. But you already know the findings (from reading about them in the Discussion section). This section explains the statistical analyses that led the authors to their conclusions.
- Read the Conclusion. The last section of the report (before any appendices) summarizes the findings, but, more important for social research, it sets out what the researchers think is the value of their research for real-life application and for public policy. This section often contains suggestions for future research, including issues that the researchers became aware of in the course of the study. Following the conclusions are appendices, usually tables of findings, presentations of questions and statements used in self-reports and questionnaires, and examples of forms used (such as forms for behavioral assessments).
We hope these six tips help you as you begin to read research articles.