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Guide to Research Using Journal Articles: Anatomy of a Journal Article

Ever wonder why your instructor requires you to use articles from journals in your research paper?

Contents of a Journal Article

Title

Abstract

Introduction

Methods

Results

Discussion

References

Anatomy of a Journal Article

Do I Have to Read all 8 Pages of the Article?

  • Yes and no...and bring a dictionary! 
  • Let's talk about the sections of a typical journal article and what you might need to pull from each section.
    • Title -- The first look at the results will give you the title/author/publisher information. The title also often contains clues as to how the article is focused.
      • To go back to our example search of "teens and alcohol," the article title "Teens with Schizophrenia More Prone to Drug Abuse" may be be too specific (teens with schizophrenia, not all teens) or too general (drug abuse, not just alcohol). Reading the title closely can save a lot of time.
    • Abstract -- Imagine reading 8 pages of an article and summing it up in less than 150 words! A good abstracter can do that. 
      • Reading a well-written abstract will further allow you to consider the research question being asked and see how well this relates your needs. Other information would include how was the study performed, what was being measured, what were the results, and what were the implications of the study.
    • Introduction -- At first glance the terms abstract and introduction sound like they describe the same thing.
      • The introduction is actually the first part of the body of the article. This section describes the topic, cites any prior research done which ones are relevant to the study. The background literature give credence to the necessity for further study and gives us the author(s)' hypothesis in this investigation. A prediction of the results may also be included in this section.
    • Methods -- To recreate the study, a description of participants, procedures used, and assessments used must be available.
      • Human Participants or Animal Subjects? -- When conducting a study, researchers usually take one of two approaches to selecting participants/subjects: statistical randomization or requiring/excluding specific characteristics (gender, age, education, diagnosis). The term "cohort" is often used to describe one particular group with characteristics in common. 
      • Procedures -- Just like giving someone directions to the right location,  the steps need to be spelled and carried out in great detail. Often the procedure is diagrammed visually in the form of a figure. Learn more about how to read figures.

       

      

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    •  Results -- Will I need a statistics book to understand this section? Yes and no.
      • The narrative of the results may include a lot of terms such as multivariate, chi square, etc. Learn more about the vocabulary of statistics. Although  intimidating, taking the time to look at the tables and graphs and browsing the results are good practice for future research.
      • Still too technical? Read on into the discussion.   
    • Discussion -- Since our journal article authors stated a research question in the introduction section, it only makes sense that they now have to come to a conclusion. There are several questions that will be answered here (and in more understandable terms).
      • How did the research agree with or disagree with the original hypothesis?
      • How did research results compare to past study results?
      • How might continuing research procede based on the current results?
    • References -- why they can help  
      • You will find authors referenced in parentheses: e.g. (McCutcheon, 1987) throughout the journal article. By looking for the author in the references section: e.g. McCutcheon, A.L. (1987) Applied latent class analysis Newberry Park, CA: Sage.   you can see the original publication information for that article. This is especially helpful if there is another article which might further add to your research.
      • More recent articles might include publication information and a hyperlink to the article: e.g. Udry, J. R. (2003). References, instruments and questionnaires consulted in the development of the add health in-home adolescent interview in add health user guides, 2003 from http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/data/using/guides.