Articles published in scientific and professional journals can be challenging for a variety of reasons.Fortunately, there are simple, effective strategies for tackling this type of text and streamlining your approach. Don’t forget to download out our note-taking template.


Key Features

Journal articles differ from other types of reading in significant ways.

  • The vocabulary is subject-specific and appropriate for advanced readers. Moreover, key terms will be woven into the text, not highlighted with special formatting or referenced in a glossary.
  • The author may make a claim, develop an argument, or share an opinion. Look for this in the article’s title and abstract (the introductory summary paragraph).
  • The focus is usually research—either the author’s own or the work of other scholars on the subject. The text is likely to include copious references to other researchers.
  • Both the author and the intended audience are likely to be experts in the subject. The author assumes that readers are already familiar with basic ideas, terms, and background knowledge.
  • The author may explore a narrow, highly specific topic or perspective within a larger subject.
  • Content may be presented in standardized sections. These include abstract, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and reference sections.
  • The text may include few or no visual aids (graphics, illustrations, photos)—only text. Moreover, there may be few or no subheadings or other content delineations.

Strategies

There are many ways to vary your approach to this type of reading.

  • Ask the professor for guiding questions or key topics to keep in mind while reading. These suggestions and insights can guide your note-taking.
  • Convert headings and topics into simple questions before you read. Jot these down and read for answers. Use these questions to guide your note-taking.
  • Build a foundation with simpler, shorter sources of information, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and reputable Web sites. Gathering background information will help you process details and identify main ideas more efficiently.
  • Supplement with a different article on the same topic or an article that was referenced multiple times.
  • Begin with the abstract (or first page) and the conclusion (or final page) for an overview of topics. These “bookends” to the article provide a framework for comprehension.
  • Skim first sentences for main ideas.
  • Feel free to read sections out of order. For example, a quick preview of the methods and results sections may provide context. Tables, figures, and graphs (if they exist) may supply an overview of key results.
  • Make a habit of condensing and paraphrasing what you read. As you finish each section or page, how well can you explain key terms and ideas without reproducing the author’s words? Use the note-taking template on page two of this handout to reduce an article to a single page of summaries.
  • Finish an entire section or page before marking text or taking notes. If there are no breaks, create your own stopping points.
  • Take note of your own thoughts and questions as you read. Don’t let them slip away! Incorporate them to class discussions and assignments.
  • Re-visit the article at a later date. You are likely to make connections that weren’t obvious during your first read.

Download PDF: Reading Journal Articles

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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