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What is a journal article?

Journal articles articulate how scientists/researchers formulate hypotheses, design empirical studies, analyze the observations they collect, and interpret their results. Journal articles generally follow a standardized format.

Primary research articles usually have the following (or similar) sections:

  • Abstract:  A concise summary of the whole article. 
  • Introduction: Purpose of the study and how it adds to existing knowledge in the field. The author's hypothesis or thesis is here. 
  • Literature Review: Summary of previous research or discussions published on this topic.
  • Methodology: How the study or experiment was performed. There should be enough specifics that you could repeat the study if you wanted. 
  • Results:  Findings from the study often in the form of tables, charts, and graphs. 
  • Discussion: What was significant about their results. The authors analyze their data and describe what they think it means.
  • Conclusion: Final thoughts and conclusions that may include: how the study addressed their hypothesis, how it contributes to the field, the strengths and weaknesses of the study, and recommendations for future research.
  • References/Bibliography: List of resources the authors used to inform their study. 

Criteria for evaluating journal articles

Scholarly journals contain articles describing high quality research that has been reviewed by experts in the field prior to publication. This is called Peer Review. Most of the articles you locate in library databases will have gone through this process. However, you will have to apply additional criteria to determine if a specific article is appropriate for your needs and if the research is strong. There are several questions to ask yourself when evaluating journal articles:


  •  Read the abstract to make sure the article is related to your research topic.


  • Who is the author and what is their expertise in the subject area? Have they written on the subject before?
  • Are they affiliated with a research institution?
  • Who is the publisher and what are their credentials?


  • When was the article published?
  • Do you only need recent articles? If so, you may choose to limit your search by date.

Article Content

  • What new information does this article provide for your assignment?
  • Does the data analysis appear to have been done correctly & thoroughly?
  • Could you reproduce the study?
  • Do the authors state the limitations of the research?
  • Is the bibliography short or long, selective or comprehensive, and are they from current or very old sources?

Relationship to Other Articles

  • Who is citing this work?
  • How frequently is this cited?