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How to read an academic article: Home

Reading for a purpose

Gathering information from an academic article is different from reading a popular article. You do not need to read an academic article from start to finish in order to understand what it's about. The first time you read the article you just need to be concerned with whether it contains information useful for your research.

What is your research question? 

When you select an article to read for a project or assignment, focus on your topic. Look for information in the article that is relevant to your research question. 

Read the abstract first as it covers the basics of the article. Questions to consider: 

  • What is this article about? What is the working hypothesis or thesis?
  • Is this related to my question or area of research?

Quick tips

In a nutshell

Use the abstract of the article to make the initial decision on whether the article may be of use to you. The abstract covers the basics of the article and if it does not present you with any useful information do not read any further. If it does then look at the following sections of the article in this order to further refine your decision as to whether to use it or not.

  • Abstract (summary)
  • Introduction
  • Conclusion and discussion
  • Results
  • Methods
  • References

Its a Video!

Anatomy of an article


Moeller, K. (2014) Anatomy of an Article:  ASU - Ask A Biologist. Available at: (Accessed: 29 August 2019)

Start here.

The abstract is presented at the top of the article and is a concise summary of the whole article highlighting the focus, study results and conclusion(s) of the article.

 Read it in depth, It will help you identify whether the article is useful to you.

The introduction

In this section, the authors introduce their topic and explain the purpose of the study and present their main argument and hypothesis.


Scan over the Introduction for key ideas which provide a background to the study, look for why its important and how it adds to existing knowledge in the field. Also scan for a summary of previous research in the field that the authors may have found in their 'Literature Review'.

The methods section covers what kind of research was carried out and how. Read about the Methods/Methodology. If what you've read addresses your research question, consider the following questions.

  • How did the author do the research?
  • Is it a qualitative or quantitative project?
  • What data is the study based on?
  • Could I repeat their work?
  • Is all the information present in order to repeat it?

Read the results and analysis, this section gives the detailed findings. Sometimes these can appear off-putting so try to identify the main points.

There are often tables of data as well as text, you might find it quicker to look at the tables of data for an overview. However if graphs and statistics are confusing, focus on the explanations around them.

The conclusion is near the end of the article, it may have other names, such as discussion.

Reading this section will enable you to see the main findings from the paper.‚Äč


It may include how the study addressed the author's hypothesis, how it contributes to the field, the strengths and weaknesses of the study, and recommendations for future research. Its good to understand these conclusions before reading the detail of the results and the methodology


Review the references

These give credit to other scientists and researchers and show you the basis the authors used to develop their research

The list of references, or works cited, should include all of the materials the authors used in the article. The references list can be a good way to identify additional sources of information on the topic

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