Here are a few screen shots to help you understand what to look for in a scholarly article that presents findings from original research (sometimes termed a "primary" research article) in the biological sciences. Scroll through the boxes below for an overview of the components of a research article. And for more on the difference between popular and scholarly, a discussion of peer review, and other examples of a primary study, take a look at the guide entitled Peer Review and Primary Literature: An Introduction
Read the Abstract (Summary)
Abstracts are included in almost all scholarly journal articles these days. (Older articles that you find in JSTOR may not include an abstract, however.) The abstract briefly describes what the article is about, so the author-written summary will usually tell you whether original research was done. The clues are usually obvious, so read the abstract first. That will allow you to quickly eliminate articles that don't suit your research needs.
The below examples all come from the article "Purification of Multiple Precursors for Egg Chorion Proteins
in Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua)" from ZOOLOGICAL SCIENCE 26: 870–877 (2009).
Note that the abstract describes procedures, indicating original research. When keywords are provided, as they are here, that can also be useful. They might suggest additional terms to explore in follow-up database searches.
Look for a Section Termed "Methods" or "Methodology"
Normally, the researcher(s) will describe what kind of research techniques they used and how their research was conducted. If you see a section termed "Method(s)." "Methodology" or "Materials and Methods" it SHOULD be a research study.
The above are only small excerpts from the article. The description of methodology usually takes several paragraphs and may include additional section headings like "Procedure."
Look for the Section Heading "Results"
The author(s) needs to present what they found out when they conducted their research. This findings section is usually called "Results."
Note that the above is a very small excerpt.
Research Articles Usually Present Data and Illustrate Process
A "primary" (original research) article usually has tables, charts, graphs, maps or other images that help to present the procedures used and the research findings.
"Discussion" Provides Concluding Remarks
What is the contribution, meaning or significance of the research? Are there recognized shortcomings or issues? Is further research required? How does this research study complement or refute earlier studies? These are a few of the topics addressed in the "Discussion" section.
Don't Forget the "References," "Bibliography" or "List of Works Cited"
Often, students need to find multiple articles on the topic they have chosen. If that is the case, then ignoring the bibliography at the end of a research article is exceedingly foolish. Any respectable researcher does a thorough "literature review" as part of their scholarly process. That means that they have tracked down, read, and cited all the important articles of a similar nature that came before them. This can be a treasure trove for students who must find additional readings. It is especially useful in identifying the core historical research on the topic. Take advantage of this resource!
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