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How to Read a Journal Article

Suggestions for students on how to read and critically evaluate the contents of a scholarly journal article.

How to read a journal article

As a student at EIU, you'll be asked to search for scholarly journal articles on a topic, read them, think about the ideas presented there, and cite them in research papers you write.  However, depending on how well you know the subject, scholarly journal articles can be hard to understand.  Because they're written by academics or experts in professional fields, they may contain unfamiliar jargon.  Some articles will use a complex sentence structure and include charts, graphs, tables, and statistics. 


Read more about what scholarly (peer-reviewed) journals are and how to search for them in Booth Library databases.
See also the Booth Library guide on how to evaluate your article search results.

This guide provides suggestions for how to read scholarly articles and think critically about their contents.
Tip: Just because an article is short doesn't mean it will be easier to understand than a longer one!   A lot will depend on the complexity of the material and the clarity of the author's writing style.

Before you read

Before trying to read the entire article, examine the title, author, and publication date. 

  • What information can you gather from the title of the article? Note the salient information, for example, "freshwater fish, Illinois river."
  • Is the author affiliated with an institution or an organization? Does this add or detract from their credibility? 
  • When was the article written? Does it present current information, or could the information be out of date?
  • Is there an argument that you can discern from the title? If so could it indicate any bias? 
Read the article title, and note the authors' affiliations.

Joining the Scholarly Conversation

Just like the research papers you write, journal articles will have an argument and will present data or other information to support the viewpoint the authors take. Every article is part of an ongoing scholarly conversation about a topic, with many authors contributing their viewpoints in the form of research they've conducted*.

As an author yourself, your opinions are important and you are contributing to that conversation!  As you review sections of the article, come up with your own judgments on the information it presents, and question the author's argument if it seems flawed.  Look out for any potential bias on the author's part.

*In the case of "review articles" or "literature review articles," authors will be summarizing the previous research on a topic.

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