Reading Journal Articles Critically
To begin reading an article that reports on a research study, try skimming it after you read the abstract and conclusions carefully. You will acquire a broad overview of the researcher’s work that will help your understanding.
Your next reading should be analytical. It might be helpful to have specific questions to answer or criteria to meet. A list of questions follows. Please be sure to summarize the content or add your own questions to the author in margin notes or a separate record. Your insights or questions for related research may be important.
Read the title carefully: more information is contained in the title than you think.
The purpose of the abstract is to summarize the article. It should provide you with the theoretical motivation for the paper, the major results and a brief general discussion.
The introduction will give you the rationale for the study (an explanation of what the study investigates and why the author considers it important). A review of previous research or theory is included to provide the context for the study. The author then presents the research question(s) and makes assumptions on what will be uncovered as a result of the study. As you read the introduction and literature review, ask yourself:
There is rarely a single way of testing a prediction or hypothesis. The researcher considered a number of possible research designs or procedures or sample groups. You must decide whether the choices made by the researcher will allow valid claims to be made about the prediction or hypothesis. The researcher may also draw comparisons earlier studies and you must determine whether those comparisons or generalizations are supported.
This section provides numerical evidence to support or refute the hypothesis. Ask yourself:
In the Discussion, the author should summarize the main findings of the study. When reading the Discussion section you should ask yourself:
The Conclusion may be in a separate section at the end of the article or incorporated as part of the Discussion section. The Conclusion should summarize the important findings of the study and point out their significance to the general research area.
Read other related studies to compare methods, results, and discussion. This will give you a better idea of the studies’ results overall and it will make identification of knowledge easier.
Beck, C. T. (1990). The research critique: General criteria for evaluating a research report. JOGNN, 19, 18-22.
Critically reading journal articles. Conservation Biology: Environmental Studies 319. Retrieved from http://www.colby.edu/biology/bi319/GuideReadJour.doc
Dunn, D. S. (2004). A short guide to writing about psychology. New York: Pearson Longman.
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