How do I read a journal article? I don’t want to read the whole thing every time!

A lot of students feel overwhelmed by research because they have to read what feels like a million articles before they find a few good ones. Fear not!  You won’t need to read every article word-for-word (although you will have to read some).  My response is catered to primary research articles, but the theory could easily be applied to articles from other disciplines, like history or political science.

  1. Read the title and the abstract: does it apply to your research?  If yes, move on to the next step.  If no, don’t bother reading this article.
  2. Read the introduction and conclusion: do you still think you can use it in your assignment?  If yes, move on to the next step.  If no, get rid of this article so it doesn’t confuse you in the future.
  3. Read the discussion ( the section right before the conclusion):  is there anything of value here?  Do you still think you can use this article in your assignment?   If no, get rid of this article.  If yes, you can probably use this article in your bibliography.  The next few steps will just give you more information.
  4. Read the results: start by reading the first sentence in each paragraph to identify which sections are valuable for you.   The results, though, will give you details on the “discussion” portion of the article and will likely give you some good content.  That said, start by reading only the first sentence in each paragraph of the results to
  5. Check the literature review or scan the bibliography: if you’ve made it this far, you will likely find other articles worth reading in the lit review or bibliography.  This is called “citation mining” and is an efficient way of finding useful resources.
  6. Read whatever is left: you may have missed something good! You probably haven’t read the methodology yet, which is helpful if you’re looking to repeat the study or identify how this article is similar to others you’ve read.

This order is only my personal opinion: make sure to check out more reliable sources, too!