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Graduate Education Research

How to Read Academic Articles

You read a book differently than a website, and you read a newspaper article differently than both of those. The same is true for a scholarly article. Here's our method for reading a scholarly article:

  1. Read the abstract if available. The abstract will clue you into whether or not it's worth your time to read the rest of the article.
  2. Read the conclusion. This is where the author says what they wanted to say anyway.
  3. Read the introduction. This will give you a sense of what the problem was and why the author did the thing.
  4. Read the lit review. Not only will it give you a sense of what you're working towards, but it can reveal other sources that might be useful to you. To find these sources, check out the bibliography/works cited.
  5. Depending on what you'd like to get out of the article, read or skim the methods and results.

Scholarly articles are written by academics for other academics. They are written for people who already have advanced knowledge of the topic being discussed. Reading through each section multiple times, then reading through the whole paper once or twice afterward will help you get a better sense of what this article is saying and what it means.

Check out these tips for making sure you understand the article you are reading!


Search WISE

Online Databases and Journals

Here are some databases to get you started. If what you want isn't here, try WISE or ask a librarian.
  • Education Full-Text  - Provides full text of articles from over 350 journals, in addition to indexing of more than 770 periodicals dating back to 1983. Subject coverage includes adult education, multicultural/ethnic education, teaching methods, special education, and educational tests.
  • PsycINFO (psychology) - Journal articles, chapters, books, dissertations, and reports on a wide array of psychology topics.
  • JSTOR - A digital journal library with wide coverage in the humanities and social sciences.


It might also be helpful to do a search of articles published in The Chronicle of Higher Education - this isn't a peer-reviewed journal, but it will provide a good idea of what conversations have been had around your topic by educators.

Understanding how databases think.

Boolean diagram

Databases and catalogs don't think like Google does. You'll have to translate how you think about your topic into "Database-ese" to get the most out of your search.

"Databases use something called boolean, which means that they really like keywords and the word AND"

"Databases AND boolean AND keywords AND "and"

If I want to find examples of gamification of information literacy in english classes, all I need to do is find my keywords and connect them:

"Information Literacy" AND Gam* and English

The quotes around "Information Literacy" means that it will be searched as a phrase and not as individual words.

The astirix after gam is a wildcard- that means I'll get results that use the word "game", "gamify", "gamification". I'll also get gamy and gambler, but that's unlikely.

NOT is another great joiner, if you want to exclude certain results. If I was only interested in looking at Information literacy in curriculums that were not history I would search

"Information Literacy" AND curriculum NOT history

But I might miss some important stuff that includes the word history, so it's usually better to be specific (AND Chemistry, AND sociology, etc).