Below are a few screen shots to show what sections and keywords to look for in a scholarly research study in Psychology. All articles are different, but the format of a primary study is often similar from one article to another. For more on the difference between popular and scholarly, a discussion of peer review, and other examples of a research study, see the guide Peer Review and Primary Literature: An Introduction
Read the Abstract (Summary)
Abstracts are included in almost all scholarly journal articles these days. (Older articles found in JSTOR may not include an abstract.) The abstract is an author-written summary which briefly describes what the article is about. It will usually tell you whether original research was done. Read the abstract first to allow you to quickly eliminate articles that don't suit your research needs.
All the below examples are taken from an article from the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. (Even the title of this journal emphasizes its focus on research studies!)
Note that the abstract describes both the experiments and very briefly indicates the results.
Look for a Section Termed "Methods" or "Methodology"
Normally, the researcher(s) will describe what kind of research techniques were used and how the research was conducted. If you see a section named "Method" or "Methodology" the article is probably 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" (as in this article). In this example article, there are multiple sections that detail Methodology and Procedures because the author conducted multiple experiments.
Look for the Section Heading "Results"
The author needs to present the information/data gathered as a result of the research. This findings section is usually called "Results," and it often includes tables, charts, diagrams and other means to present what the researcher discovered.
"Discussion" Provides Concluding Remarks
What is the 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. Use the bibliography (A.K.A. works cited, references, citations, etc...) at the end of a research article to quickly find other literature relevant to your paper topic. A respectable researcher does a thorough literature review as part of the scholarly process. That means that the researcher and the researcher's assistants 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. Take advantage of this resource!
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