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Communication Research Strategies

Components of a scholarly article

“What is this article about?”

Abstract: Most articles start with a paragraph called the “abstract”, which very briefly summarizes the whole article.

Introduction: This section introduces the research question under consideration in the article, and discusses what the article contributes to existing knowledge within the field.

Modified from the Department of Sociology, SUNY Brockport:

“What do we already know about this topic and what is left to discover?”

Literature review: the authors will review the existing research and theory on the topic, either as part of the introduction, or after the introduction under its own subtitle. The review of literature is meant to discuss previous work on the topic, point out what questions remain, and relate the research presented in the rest of the article to the existing literature.

Modified from the Department of Sociology, SUNY Brockport:

“How did the author do the research?  Why this way and not this other way?”

Methodology: There is always some discussion of the methods used by the authors to conduct the study being reported.  If these is any sort of control group being used as part of the methodology, it will be described here.

Modified from the Department of Sociology, SUNY Brockport:

"What specifically did the authors do?"

Experimentation: A description of the experimentation in which the authors engaged.  This section will report any data produced by the experiment, be it numerical data, qualitative response data, etc.  Data comes in many different forms.

Modified from the Department of Sociology, SUNY Brockport:

“What did the authors find?  What did their findings reveal or say in response to their research question?”

Results, analysis, & discussion: A section or multiple sections will be devoted to analyzing the experiment that was conducted, as well as its results.  These sections then discuss the results, and what the analysis of these results revealed.

Modified from the Department of Sociology, SUNY Brockport:

"What limitations does this research have, and how might they affect the conclusions that may be drawn from this research?"

Limitations: A description of any limitations of the experimentation in which the authors engaged, and how these limitations may affect the conclusions that may be drawn from this experimentation.

Modified from the Department of Sociology, SUNY Brockport:

“What does it all mean and why is it important?”

Discussion and Conclusion: Articles typically end by discussing what the results mean and how the study contributes to existing knowledge. Answers to research questions are addressed in this section, as is whether any hypotheses were supported or not. The conclusion typically places the research in a larger context and discusses where future research on the topic may be headed.

Modified from the Department of Sociology, SUNY Brockport:

Things to consider when reading a scholarly article / Shortcuts to reading journal articles

Image of woman thinking

Owen Lin. (2012, May 23). Deep Thoughts. Retrieved from Used under the Creative Commons License.

  1. Know your research question or argument. Though your question/argument may change or evolve as you delve deeper into the research process, you will want to have a solid idea of your research focus.
  2. You don't have to read the entire article in order. Start with the abstract which will give you a general summary of the article. If the abstract seems relevant then move to the conclusion or discussion section of the article to gain a better understanding of the article's main claims. At this point if the article does not seem relevant or useful then discard it. However, if the article does seem useful then spend as much time as necessary reading the article.
  3. Read critically. What is the author's argument? You will need to use your judgment when evaluating each source of information. Further research may be necessary if you find the author to be biased or you do not believe the validity of their argument.
  4. Read the reference section. Reading the references or works cited may lead you to other useful resources. You might also get a better understanding of the major players in the area you are researching.
  5. Take notes. How you do this is up to you. Make sure you keep your research question and argument in mind so you can be more efficient when taking notes.
    Created by Rachel Arteaga, for CSU Chico:

Image of woman thinking
Thomas Hawk. (2012, Oct. 18). In Deep Thought. Retrieved from Used under the Creative Commons License.
When conducting your own research in the future, you will encounter dozens of possibilities in your search for sources that may be relevant to your research. Most often you will find more sources than you can possibly read thoroughly in the time you have to do your project. So you will not have time to read everything chronologically from start to finish. Here are some hints on how to sift through the multiple possibilities, discard articles that are less helpful, and recognize potentially important sources.
  • Read the abstract first: Titles don’t always give much information. The abstract should give you just enough information to let you know the basics of the article. From this you will know whether you should read on or look elsewhere for your project. Some journals print a list of keywords pertaining to the article as well. These are further clues about the article.
  • Read the introduction and discussion/conclusion next: These sections will give you the main argument of the article, which should be helpful in determining its relevance to you and your project. You’ll also get a glimpse of the findings of the research being reported.
  • Read about the methods next: If what you’ve read so far interests you, get a sense of how the research was done. Is it a qualitative or quantitative project? What data are the study based on?
  • Read the Analysis and results next: If you decide that you are committed to this article, you should read in more detail about this research.

Created by the Department of Sociology, SUNY Brockport:

What makes information peer-reviewed vs. scholarly vs. non-scholarly? Which type of source should I use?

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There is a nuanced distinction between peer-review and scholarship, which typically doesn't matter when evaluating sources for possible citation in your own work.  Peer-review is a process through which editors of a journal have other experts in the field evaluate articles submitted to the journal for possible publication.  Different journals have different ways of defining an expert in the field.  Scholarly works, by contrast have an editorial process, but this process does not involve expert peer-reviewers.  Rather, one or more editors, who are themselves often highly decorated scholars in a field, evaluate submissions for possible publication.  This editorial process can be more economically driven than a peer-review process, with a greater emphasis on marketing and selling the published material, but as a general rule this distinction is trivial with regard to evaluating information for possible citation in your own work.

What is perhaps a more salient way of thinking about the peer-review / scholarship distinction is to recognize that while peer-reviewed information is typically highly authoritative, and is generally considered "good" information, the absence of a peer-review process doesn't automatically make information "bad."  More specifically, the only thing the absence of a peer-review process means is that information published in this manner is not peer-reviewed.  Nothing more.  Information that falls into this category is sometimes referred to as "non-scholarly" information -- but again, that doesn't mean this information is somehow necessarily problematic.

Where does that leave you in terms of deciding what type of information to use in producing your own work?  That is a highly individual decision that you must make.  The Which type of source should I use? tab in this box offers further guidance on answering this question, though it is important to be aware that many WSU instructors will only consider peer-reviewed sources to be acceptable in the coursework you turn in.  You can ask your instructor for his or her thoughts on the types of sources s/he will accept in student work.

Image: Martin Grater. (2017, Nov. 1). Deep Thought. Retrieved from Used under the Creative Commons License.

Image of man thinking

Your topic and research question or thesis statement will guide you on which resources are best.  Sources can be defined as primary, secondary and tertiary levels away from an event or original idea. Researchers may want to start with tertiary or secondary source for background information. Learning more about a topic will help most researchers make better use of primary sources.

While articles from scholarly journals are often the most prominent of the sources you will consider incorporating into your coursework, they are not the only sources available to you.  Which sources are most appropriate to your research is a direct consequence of they type of research question you decide to address.  In other words, while most university-level papers will require you to reference scholarly sources, not all will.  A student in an English course writing a paper analyzing Bob Dylan's lyrics, for example, may find an interview with Dylan published in Rolling Stone magazine a useful source to cite alongside other scholarly works of literary criticism.

The WSU University Libraries' What Sources Should I Use? handout, as well as the other sub-tabs under the Evaluating information section of this guide (which is indeed the section you are currently viewing) offer further guidance on understanding and identifying scholarly resources, and comparing them against different criteria to evaluate if they will be of value to your research.  How many non-scholarly works (if any) you are at liberty to cite alongside scholarly ones is often a question to ask of your professor.  Some may not want you to cite any, whereas others may be ok with some non-scholarly works cited alongside scholarly ones.

Image: Brett Woods. (2006, Jan. 6). Deep Thoughts. Retrieved from Used under the Creative Commons License.

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