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MicroMasters® at the University of Edinburgh

An introduction to the resources available to support your learning


flatlay of computer, magnifying glass, pens and coffee

Here is a general list of key questions to ask yourself:

Who were the researchers?

  • Do you know who they are, where they work or how they might have the authority to write about what they've published? 
  • Do they seem unusual candidates to do the research?
  • Are there any potential conflicts of interest?
  • Who supported the research? (For example, some research on the nutritional value of a type of food may be supported by an industry organisation rather than an academic institution. This may affect the findings of the study.)

What is the research about?

  • Does the title reflect the content?
  • Does the abstract provide a full summary of the article content?
  • Do the authors make the question, aim, or objectives and the hypothesis or theory of the study clear?

Anatomy of a scholarly article

TIP: When possible, keep your research question(s) in mind when reading scholarly articles. It will help you to focus your reading.

Title. With scholarly sources, titles are straightforward and describe what the article is about. Titles often include relevant key words.

The Abstract is a summary of the author(s)'s research findings and tells what to expect when you read the full article. It is often a good idea to read the abstract first, in order to determine if you should even bother reading the whole article.

Discussion and Conclusion. Read these after the Abstract (even though they come at the end of the article). These sections can help you see if this article will meet your research needs. If you don’t think that it will, set it aside. Introduction.

The introduction is meatier than the Abstract. Here you see where the author(s) enter the conversation on this topic. That is to say, what related research has come before, and how do they hope to advance the discussion with their current research?

The Methods section explains how the study worked. Again, reading this section, you can think critically about the work that the authors have done, and decide whether it applies to your own research question. In this section, you often learn who and how many participated in the study and what they were asked to do. In the sciences or social sciences, sub-sections might include Materials and Procedure.

In the Results section (can also be called Data), there can be a lot of numbers and tables. If you are not a whiz at statistics, you can actually skip this section, unless you plan to replicate or modify the project methodology yourself (in which case, you might need to brush up on your statistics). The Discussion or Conclusion section provides the necessary summary of these results. Bottom line: Unless you are a "data" person, you can likely skip the data.

The Works Cited page is often the most important. It might also be called References or Bibliography. This section comprises the author(s)’s sources. Always be sure to scroll through them. Good research usually cites many different kinds of sources (books, journal articles, etc.). Train yourself to notice the differences between source types in your field’s citation style. As you read the Works Cited page, be sure to look for sources that look like they will help you to answer your own research question. It’s considered best practices – and a real time-saver—to do so.

Useful resources


Checklist adapted from SMILE - How to assess a research article by GCU School of Health and Life Sciences modified by Marion Kelt, Glasgow Caledonian University licensed under CC-BY 4.0 license

Anatomy of a scholarly article from the Research Toolkit by Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin at Hunter College Libraries licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

Image credits

The Things You need by Ian Dooley on Unsplash under CC0 license