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How to Decipher a Scholarly Article: The Structure of Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Articles

Basic Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Scholarly, peer-reviewed articles, across most disciplines, share similar characteristics:

  • An abstract (summary) of the article, which appears on the opening page, and in the database record that identifes the article. 
  • A clearly marked
    • introduction at the beginning,
    • and a discussion / conclusion at the end.
  • A list of references (works cited, 'bibliography'), that the author uses to inform his/her argument. 
  • Empirical research studies also will include clearly marked sections describing the study's methods and results, which are then followed by the discussion and conclusion.

Use the Structure of Academic Writing to your Advantage ...

... while reading:

  • First, read the sections that supply a basic understanding of the article: the abstract, the introduction, and the conclusion.
  • Look for section headings or boldface font. These are used to separate the article into 'chunks,' and to announce the focus of the following paragraph(s).
  • Fill in the middle: if the article seems appropriate for your project, then read it beginning to end. 

... when looking for additional articles:

  • Use the list of cited references to gather more articles / books on the topic. These are the sources that the article's author used.
  • Article databases automatically scan for your search terms in the article titles, the abstracts, and the database's assigned subject headings. Take note of the range of vocabulary used in the titles, abstracts, and subject headings of appropriate articles, and recycle those terms in your own searches. 

Sample Article and Corresponding Citation

‚ÄčThe structure of the citation provides clues about the type of publication that the article appears in. Citations for articles in scholarly journals, such as in this example from the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, include the journal's volume and issue numbers as well as the date. 

Elias, Amanuel, and Yin Paradies. “The Costs of Institutional Racism and Its Ethical Implications for Healthcare.” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, vol. 18, no. 1, Mar. 2021, pp. 45–58EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11673-020-10073-0.

By noting the abstract and section headings, the reader can get a basic understanding of the themes covered in the article.

Screen shot of an article abstract and introduction


Screen shot of article 'chunks,' defined by section headings

Screen shot of article's conclusion screen shot of article references


See also: Peer Review & Primary Research