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Reading Journal Articles

Before you start reading a journal article, always identify your reason for reading by developing a research question. What do you want to find out?

Next, use the SQ5R method to improve your reading comprehension and get the most out of the reading process.

Before You Read


  • Read the abstract. This is a summary of the article that helps you determine if the article is relevant to your research question.
  • Skim through headings and subheadings to determine how relevant the information is and to help you decide what sections will be most important.
  • Glance at the language used. Some journal articles are targeted at very specific, specialized audiences. If you see a lot of jargon you don't know, try a different article to avoid confusion and difficulties paraphrasing the article in your paper.

While You Read


  • Develop questions about each heading before you read the sections, then answer each question as you read. For example, for the heading "Purpose," ask "What is the purpose of the article?" or "How does the author interpret the results?"
  • Question the author's arguments. Are the arguments logical? Does the evidence support their claims? Do you disagree with their ideas?


  • Identify the thesis or purpose of the article (usually found in the introduction).
  • Read section by section. Make sure you have an understanding of each relevant section before you move on.
  • As you read, remember to answer your questions.


  • Highlight key terminology and concepts.
  • Read with a pencil in hand. Record any questions, reactions, and responses you have as well as connections you can make to other texts you have read.​

After You Read​​​​


  • Summarize the text in your own words. If you understand the text, you should be able to retell the main ideas. If not, reread.


  • If any ideas, concepts, or terminology are still unclear, seek clarification by asking your instructor, using a dictionary, or doing further research.


  • Ask yourself: Did the article help to answer your research question? How?
  • Make connections between the article and your coursework or other research. What overlaps? What contradicts? This reflection helps to shape your own ideas and can lead to how you approach your assignment. 


  • 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. Therefore, making note of where you got the information will save you time later.
  • If you are summarizing, pay close attention to the topic sentence (often the first sentence) of each paragraph. This will help you identify main ideas in the article.
  • Be intentional about how you use research in your paper. Your own essay typically should not be just a summary of other people's work; rather, focus on your judgments about the text and consider how the research supports your own thoughts and ideas.