Brandel Library

COMM 2010: Introduction to Communication Theory

Reading Scholarly Articles

Overview of reading scholarly sources

When you first start reading scholarly articles, it will feel challenging. Don't let this stop you from reading them! The first secret is that you do not need to understand every single word--even your professors probably don't understand every single word. The second secret is that there are certain conventions used in scholarly articles, and understanding those conventions helps you read them strategically. 

For the purposes of this class, there are two main flavors of scholarly articles you will encounter: 

  • Essays that use logic and analysis of evidence to prove a point/thesis ("humanities-style"). 
  • Reports on new research using the scientific method ("science-style").

Hint: If you see sections labeled "Methods" or "Results, it's a science-style article. If instead all section subheadings are based on topics, it's probably a humanities-style article.

In both cases, it helps to have a good reading strategy. This page offers reading strategies for these two types of scholarly articles.

Reading Scholarly Articles in the Humanities

 

Typical Article Structure

Section What to Look for
Introduction
  • What problem is the author trying to solve?
  • What conversation is the author joining?
  • What is the main argument the author is trying to make?
Body
  • How is the argument structured?
  • What does the author use as evidence to support their argument?
  • What theory or framework does the author to use to interpret the evidence?
Conclusion
  • How does this analysis aid our understanding of the topic?
  • What areas for future research does it suggest?
References
  • Would any of the sources this article cites be useful for my project?

Reading Scholarly Articles in the Social Sciences

 

Typical Article Structure

Section What to Look for
Introduction
  • What is the main contribution this study makes to the literature on this topic (you can also look to the conclusion for this)?
  • Is this going to be relevant to your project?
Literature Review 
  • What are the major themes the author has identified in the literature as being pertinent to their topic?
  • Are there any sources cited here that could be useful for your research?
  • How does the author see their research question fitting in to the rest of this literature?
Methods
  • What is the researcher's method of answering the research question? (e.g., qualitative, quantitative)
  • What are the variables being measured/analyzed?
  • Where is the data coming from?
Results
  • Based on their analysis of the data, what answers to their research questions did the authors find?
Discussion and Conclusion
  • What is the main contribution this study makes to the literature on this topic (you can also look to the introduction for this)?
  • What are the key takeaways from this study?
  • How do the results of this study fit in with the results of other studies on this topic? 
  • What are some questions left unanswered?
References
  • Would any of the sources this article cites be useful for my project?