Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Can you tell the difference between an academic journal and a journal from a popular magazine?

  • Transcript

    Take a quick look at these two articles. Can you tell which is from an academic journal and which is from a popular magazine?

    You probably guessed correctly that article A is the scholarly article, and B is the popular magazine article. And you were able to tell without even reading them.
    That's because you are familiar with the visual rhetoric of each of these publication styles.

    You've seen articles in popular publications before.

    Magazine articles employ sophisticated graphic design; they include lots of color images; and they tend to have advertisements.

    Whereas scholarly articles have a more functional look.

    But what, besides the visual style, indicates that this is a research article from an academic journal?

    Let's take a closer look at this article about Mars exploration.

    On the first page of any article you'll usually see the publication information, which you need to write a citation: the journal title, publication date, and volume/issue numbers.

    If you don't see it on the first page, look in the header or footer of subsequent pages.

    Unlike popular articles, whose titles are often short and easy to understand, scholarly article titles often serve as a brief summary of the article, and typically use technical jargon associated with the field.

    Academic articles often have more than one author, and the the publication will usually list their research institutions.

    In this example, their academic affiliations are footnoted at the bottom of the page.
    The abstract is a preview of the article to help a reader determine if the article will meet her needs.

    Usually under 250 words, it briefly presents the purpose of the research; an outline of the study or argument; and a summary of the findings.

    Since academic articles are written for an audience of experts in the field, the text presumes an understanding of discipline specific concepts and vocabulary.

    Scholarly articles present the authors' research as a formal, structured argument which outlines the authors' argument and research process.The structure is sometimes obvious, with the article explicitly broken up into named sections. This is especially true in the natural sciences and social sciences.

    But even if an article doesn't have section headings, it will present a structured argument, with an introduction, presentation of evidence, and conclusion. This is often the case in the humanities.

    The Mars article we're looking at follows a format called IMRaD, which is commonly used in the sciences.

    Papers in the IMRAD format share a common layout: they have an Introduction section; a description of the research Methods; a presentation of the Results; and a Discussion of the findings.

    In fact, IMRaD stands for "Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion".
    The introduction presents the goal of the research, in the form of a thesis, hypothesis, or research question. It may also discuss why the work being presented is important.

    A literature review describing related research and findings may also appear in the introduction, though this may be in its own section.

    In the methods section, the authors describe how they conducted their study.
    They might present the materials used, describe the subjects studied, and share the statistical methods they used to analyze their results.

    These research methods are described in order to allow readers to evaluate the rigor of the study, compare it to similar studies, and potentially try to reproduce the results.

    As you might expect, authors use the results section to present their findings, comparing them to the original hypothesis or research question, and highlighting any results that are particularly significant.

    In the discussion section, the authors may provide more context for the results of their study.

    They might discuss the implications of the results, explain why the findings are important, compare what they discovered to what was already known about the topic, and highlight opportunities for future research.

    Most papers end with a list of references. Each reference corresponds to one of the citations in the body of the paper.

    Readers can use this list to better understand how the authors build their argument, or to expand their reading or knowledge on the topic.

    If you have questions about scholarly articles, if you need help determining whether a particular article is scholarly, or if you have any other questions, Ask a Librarian for help!

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Video added on May 1, 2017



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