Here are a few screen shots to help you understand what to look for in a scholarly research study in Sociology. All articles are different, of course; however, the format of a primary study is often similar from one article to another. Take a look below. For more on the difference between popular reading and scholarly material, 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 Violence & Victims.
Look for a Section Termed "Method," "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 is only a small excerpt from the article. Description of methodology usually takes several paragraphs.
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.
As you can imagine, the above is just a small snippet of the Results section of this article!
Look for Tables and Graphs
Within the Results section, you would expect to see data summarized and presented through tables, graphs, charts and the like.
"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 normally addressed in the "Discussion" section.
A Word About the Literature Review
All research articles should include some level of literature review, since it is important for a researcher to understand what previous scholars have learned about this topic. In the case of this article, the author organized the literature review into a separate section.
However, a Literature Review article is NOT the same as a Research article! Some academics provide a valuable scholarly service by sifting through all (or most) of the Research articles available on a particular topic and publishing a Literature Review article. However, if these authors did not conduct their own original research (surveys, interviews, etc.), such an article would not qualify as a research study!
To learn more about Literature Reviews, see this guide.
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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