In scientific research scholarly journal articles are the primary way research is communicated and spread. Thousands of articles written by scientists for scientists and other scholars are published in high-quality peer-reviewed journals every year. Because these journals are not widely available outside academic and research institutions you may have never seen scholarly articles and may be overwhelmed by them at first. This tutorial will walk you through the basics of scholarly articles and unlock their mysteries.

The Primary Research Article
The primary research article is the single most important piece of scholarly literature. It is the primary means by which scientists report the results of their research to the world. A primary research articles begins when a single researcher (or more often a group of them) perform an experiment. When you do an experiment in lab you are often assigned a lab report with an Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusions sections. A primary research article is this same document containing all of those sections but expanded and fully cited that is intended for publication. >Here are the main parts of a research article that you should be able to recognize:

  • Article Information
    • Article title
    • Authors and Affiliations
  • Abstract
    • Short summary of the article
  • Introduction and Review of the Literature
    • Discusses previous research on the topic
  • Materials and Methods
    • Describes the Experiment performed
    • Sometimes called Procedure
  • Results
    • Provides the results seen in the experiment
    • Contains charts, graphs, or tables of data
  • Discussion and Conclusion
    • Puts the results in context of the known research, discusses any known sources of error, suggests areas for further research
  • References
    • Citations for other articles discussed

Review Articles
Review articles are written by researchers to summarize many primary research articles in a larger context. They contain no new research and so are made up of only the article information, abstract, a lengthy multi-part discussion of many primary research articles, and an extensive list of references. Review article are recommended when you are interested in learning about the state of the research on a particular topic so you can work on finding exactly the primary research article that contains the research you want. Here's how to use a review article to find a primary research article that interests you:

  • Read a recent review article on your topic of interest
  • Find where in the review the research that is relevant is discussed
  • Like all scholarly material, the source for the information will be noted in the text using one of the following methods
  • An in-text citation: the authors' names will be mentioned in the text or in parentheses at the end of the sentence, and the citations are listed by authors' names at the end of the paper


  • An end-note where a small raised number corresponds to a list of references at the end of the paper

Reading a Citation
Now that you can find citations at the end of articles you'll need to know how to decipher them. Like an address, a citation is made up of several different parts that will help you locate a particular article. The pieces of information you'll need are:

  • The last name of at least three of the authors (sometimes an article has hundreds of authors)
  • The title of the journal in which the article was published
  • The volume number of the journal in which the article was published; often there is also an issue number
  • The date of publication, at least the year
  • At least the page number on which the article begins
  • The title of the article itself often appears but not in every case


Unlike an address, these pieces of information don't always come in the same order. Here are four slightly different citations for the same article


You'll also notice that sometimes the journal name is abbreviated. if you aren't sure what an abbreviation means try entering it into a web search.

If you are unsure about how to read a any citation  ask your TA, professor, or librarian to help you.
The librarian at your library lab will show you how to begin searching for primary research and review articles as well as how to find articles from popular publications like magazines and newspapers.