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How to Read Scholarly Articles: The Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Here you will learn how to recognize a scholarly article, its components and strategies for reading

Or how things fit together

Scholarly articles do not all look exactly the same but they have similar characteristics. By learning about these characteristics, you will know how to identify something scholarly.

Scholarly articles that present new research, like in the social sciences and sciences, will have very similar structures. There is a different structure for scholarly articles in the arts and humanities.

If you are having trouble finding or identifying a scholarly article or journal for your assignment, ask a librarian!

Physical and Social Sciences

Scholarly articles in the Social and Physical Sciences are referred to as research articles. Research articles present original studies that add to the current scholarship on a given topic.

The table below describes the components of Scholarly articles in the Social Sciences and Physical Sciences. The majority of research articles in these disciplines will have the sections listed below, but there will always be some outliers. 


Brief summary of the article, including methodology and results.
Introduction Background information about the topic of research, with reasoning for why the study is being done.


How the study was done. The details of the research, including set-up and how data was collected.
Results/Findings Presentation of the data from the study. This section often includes charts, tables and graphs as visual representations of the data.
Discussion Analysis of the data, and how the study relates to existing knowledge of the topic. The authors evaluate whether the results of their study actually answered their research question.
Conclusion The authors wrap up the article by discussing how their study adds to the existing knowledge on the topic and outline potential research for further studies.
References List of resources (articles, books, journals, etc) that authors consulted when developing their research.


Arts and Humanities

Within the Arts and Humanities, scholarly articles are set up differently than in the Sciences. Articles will read more like essays, rather than scientific experiments. As a result, there is not a standard format for these kind of scholarly articles. Although an article written in an essay style may seem more approachable to read, the rule still applies that the authors are writing for other experts in their fields, so they will likely still be challenging to read and include terminology and jargon from the discipline.

In the Humanities, scholars are not conducting research experiments on participants but rather are making logical arguments based on the evidence they have; often this comes from texts. In literature, for example, a scholar may be studying a particular novel of an author. In history, a scholar could draw new conclusions based on primary source documents from the time period she is studying.

The following sections are generally included in humanities scholarly articles, although not always. If they are included, they may not be clearly marked. In fact, each article you read on a topic will have different section headings, if any, decided upon by the authors and editors.

Abstract This brief summary is usually included, though not always.
Introduction Usually pretty long and gives a lot of background information for the topic being studied. Thesis "statement" will be found here, although it is not limited to one sentence. The Introduction may also include a Literature Review.
Discussion/Conclusion The discussion likely runs through the entire article and does not have a separate section. The conclusion might not be as neatly wrapped up in a humanities articles as in the sciences. Things might be a little unclear. 
Works Cited List of resources used by the author(s).