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Access to HE and Foundation Pathways Programme

How to read a journal article

The initial reading of an article is not designed to be detailed but to familarise yourself with the article, its content and key points and help you decide whether it is going to be of use to you and worth reading in more depth. The idea is to read the article quickly (also known as skimming) in order to find out what it is about and how it is organised.

  • Start with the title and abstract of the article to make the initial decision on relevancy and usefulness to your topic.
  • If it does, then look at the following sections of the article in this order to further refine your decision as to whether to use it or not,
    • Introduction
    • Conclusion and discussion
    • Results
    • Methods
    • References
    • Labels on tables, images, diagrams etc


Moeller, K. (2014) Anatomy of an Article:  ASU - Ask A Biologist. Available at: (Accessed: 13 June 2021)

"How to read a journal article" by Teeside University Library licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 / modified from original with additional text.

Before you start your initial reading, you need to think of what you want from the article and what keywords or terms you hope to find. Think of two or three terms that describe what you want to know, and as you skim, keep an eye out for those terms. Skimming without knowing what you hope to find can cause drowsiness and lack of attention, defeating the purpose of skimming.


  • Look for keywords/terms that are related and applicable to your topic/assignment question/research area 
  • Initially, just read the first sentence of each paragraph. This introductory sentence usually describes what information will follow in that paragraph, if the start of a sentence holds no promise of it giving you the information you want, skip to the next sentence.
  • When skimming over a longer section of text, move your eyes vertically as much as you move your eyes horizontally. In other words, you move your eyes down the page as much as you move them from side to side.
  • Highlight or underline anything that looks relevant. Don't worry if you don't full understand it on your initial reading you can come back to it later.
  • Don't take detailed notes. The initial reading stage is to to gain an overview of the content and to determine whether the article is useful and worth looking at in more depth.


In summary:

  • Read the title, the abstract, the introduction etc. and any headings and subheadings
  • Read the first sentence of each paragraph
  • Read text by checking for keywords rather than trying to fully understand the information in the sentence
  • Look at illustrations (photographs, pictures, charts, diagrams, tables)

Anatomy of an article

The title will provide a good indication of what the article is about although you will need to read the abstract to get a better overview.  However, it may be enough to screen out articles that are clearly not related to your assignment.

"How to read a journal article" by Teeside University Library licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 / modified from original with additional text.

The abstract is presented at the top of the article and is a concise summary of the whole article highlighting the focus, study results and conclusion(s) of the article.

 Read it in depth, It will help you identify whether the article is useful to you.

In this section, the authors introduce their topic and explain the purpose of the study and present their main argument and hypothesis.

Scan over the Introduction for key ideas which provide a background to the study, look for why its important and how it adds to existing knowledge in the field. Also scan for a summary of previous research in the field that the authors may have found in their 'Literature Review'.

The conclusion is near the end of the article, it may have other names, such as discussion.

Reading this section will enable you to see the main points from the article.

It may include how the study addressed the author's question, how it contributes to the subject/field of research, the strengths and weaknesses of the study, and recommendations/implications for future research or action. Its good to understand these conclusions before reading the detail of the results and the methodology


This section gives detailed findings (results and analysis) collected from the research. Sometimes these can appear off-putting or confusing so try to identify the main points.

There are often tables of data, graphs, statistics and figures as well as text and you might find it quicker to look at these for an overview. However if graphs and statistics are confusing, focus on the explanations around them.

The methods section covers what kind of research was carried out and how it was conducted.
Consider the following questions:

  • Is it a qualitative or quantitative project?
  • What data is the study based on?
  • Were appropriate methods used?
  • Who was involved?
  • Scope/limitations of the research?

The methods section should be detailed enough for someone to replicate the research and help you determine the robustness of the research approach.

Make sure you review the references (usually at the end of the article).

The references section is a list of the sources (articles, books, conference proceedings) used by the author/s.

The list of references, or works cited, should include all of the materials the authors used in the article. The references list can be a good way to identify further reading and additional relevant research on the topic