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Understanding a Journal Article Format​

Many instructors will expect you to use articles from scholarly journals in your research assignments because these articles are written and reviewed by experts in the field. Reading a journal article can be challenging, but these strategies can help.


Understanding how the information is divided and organized can help you make sense of the content.


The abstract is a summary of the article. It gives you information about the topic and the type of research that the author did. Always read the abstract first to decide whether the article is relevant to your own topic or research question.  


The introduction gives you background on the topic and why the author decided to conduct the study. This is also where you will find the thesis or statement of intent (what the author is trying to achieve or prove).

Literature Review

This section discusses previously published research on the topic and how it relates to the author's research. It may also present gaps in the research or questions that have yet to be answered.


This section outlines how the research was conducted. This section helps you evaluate the quality of the research (which could be used for an annotated bibliography or analysis of methodology, for example).

Results or Findings

This section outlines findings from the research study. Depending on the type of research, there may be data sets, such as graphs and tables, but don't feel you need to understand all of the data. Focus on the text since the author usually explains the meaning behind the numbers and identifies the most important findings.

Discussion or Conclusion

This is one of the most important parts of the article. Here, the author of the article will suggest how the results may be interpreted. In other words, you can find out what the author learned and why he/she thinks the findings are important.


  • Read the article multiple times. Read once or twice to understand main ideas and supporting details. Next, read critically, asking important questions about the quality of the argument, gaps, new ideas, etc.
  • Too much highlighting is just as bad as no highlighting. Only highlight key information. Focus instead on making note of questions and reactions you have to the information.
  • When taking notes, always include the author and page number. Remember: You will have to cite and reference your sources.
  • Be intentional about how you use research in your paper. Consider how the research supports your own thoughts and ideas.

Other Resources

Check out these other useful resources: