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How to Read a Research Article: How to Read a Research Article

How to read an original research article

An "original research article" reports the results of an original research study. It is sometimes called a primary research article. The article also looks at how the study adds knowledge to what is already known. 

When you start reading a scientific research article it will help if you understand what is included in the different sections and what you should look for.

Read and Evaluate the Abstract

The abstract aims be a concise summary of the article. It should describe the focus, study results and conclusion(s) presented in the article. The abstract can help you decide if the article is relevant to your assignment.

Is the Article Current Enough for Your Assignment?

It is hard to set hard and fast rules on how recent your article needs to be. The lecturer will often expect you to find information from the last few years, but you might want to include an older landmark study in your assignment.  

You need to decide if the article is: up-to-date; out-of-date or timeless.

Journal Quality, Author Credential, Funding Bodies and Ethics

Before you read the rest of the article you might want to see if the article is peer-reviewed. You can use Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory to look up the title of the journal where the article is published. If the journal is peer-reviewed, then the articles within it will be peer-reviewed. 

At this stage you might also look at the authors of the article. What are the authors' qualifications, their work experience and affiliations? Are they employed by a university, government organisation, NGO or by an industry organisation? How do you think their employment can influence their research?

You should also think about who funded the research. Do you trust research conducted by industry or an interest group as much as research conducted by a university or a government organisation?

Another consideration is if the research has an ethics approval. If the study affects humans or animals the authors needs to examine the ethical impact of the research. A research article should include a statement about who granted the ethics approval. If the research involved humans the article also has to state that the participants gave informed consent to participate in the research. If the research didn't need an ethics approval it should include a statement that explains why it was not needed.

Introduction and Literature Review

The introduction explains to you what the study is about and why it is important, unique or how it adds to existing knowledge in the field. The research question (the hypothesis) is also outlined in the introduction.

A research article also includes a literature review of previous research.  This review should help you understand what is already known about the topic and what is left to discover. It should also clarify why the research in this article is unique. 

Before you continue reading the article you need to think about how this article can help you with your own assignment or research.

Methodology / Materials and Methods

In this section the authors explain how they conducted the research. The methodology should include enough information so that the research could be repeated.

You should be able to find out if it was a qualitative or quantitative project, or if it was a combination of both. Do you understand the terminology or do you need to look the terms up? 

Another important question to ask is how large the study was? Small studies can give skewed results, but they can also give directions and ideas for further research. 

Did the study include a control group? Did it need to?

Results and Analysis

This section the authors explains the research findings. These findings are then analysed. 

You need to make sure you understand results. The data and statistical results are presented in tables, charts, or graphs. To help you understand the graphs and statistics read the explanations or labels carefully.

Questions to consider: 

  • What did the study find?
  • Are the results presented in a factual and unbiased way?
  • Do you think some data are missing?
  • Do you think their analysis reflects the research data?
  • Do your conclusion match what the authors' conclusion?

Discussion / Analysis

In the discussion the authors analyse their data and explain what was significant about the results.

Conclusion

In the final section the authors discuss the strength and weaknesses of the study. They will discuss if the result was what they predicted when planning the research. Recommendations for future research are also included in this section.

The Bibliography or Reference List

An important part of writing a research article is to acknowledge our sources. You can use the reference list to find other articles on the topic.

Further readings:

Subramanyam, R. V. (2013). Art of reading a journal article: Methodically and effectively. Journal of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology (0973029X), 17(1), 65-70. doi:10.4103/0973-029X.110733

How to evaluate a review paper

Review papers summarise and evaluate the current knowledge on a selected topic. The three most common types of review articles are: Narrative reviews; systematic reviews or meta-analysis. The article below can help you read and evaluate a review article.

Callcut, R. A., & Branson, R. D. (2009). How to read a review paper. Respiratory Care, 54(10), 1379-1385. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rzh&AN=105328053&site=ehost-live.  

Understanding health research

Understanding Health Research: A Tool for Making Sense of Health Studies 

This site from UK helps you interpert and evaluate a published health research paper.

The Review a Study module guides you through a series of questions about a piece of research you have found, and helps you to evaluate the quality of the research.

The Useful Information Page will help you understand the some of different terminology and concepts used in health research.

Evidence Based Practice Learning Modules from NSW Health

These Learning Modules have been developed to support NSW Health clinicians gain skills to integrate the best available evidence into practice. Each Learning Module covers a different aspects of Evidence-Based Practice (EBP).

qualitative vs quantative research

The different types of academic articles

Original or Primary Research Article

These articles are reports of original research. They include hypothesis, a short literature review, methods, results, interpretation of findings, and a discussion of possible implications. 

Review Article

Review articles provide a summary and an evaluation of research on a topic. The review will also identify gaps in knowledge, which will help identify further research that needs to be done. 

Case Study

A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth, detailed examination of an organisation, event, action, or person over a defined period of time.

Clinical Trial

Clinical trials are research investigations in which people volunteer to test new treatments, interventions or tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage various diseases or medical conditions. 

Methodologies or Methods

These articles present an experimental method, test or procedure. 

Perspective, opinion, and commentary

These scholarly articles express a personal opinion or a new perspective about existing research on a particular topic.