How to Read and Take Notes on a Scholarly Journal Article
How to Understand the Author
The first thing you need to do in order to read and summarize a scholarly journal article is understand the author. To understand the author, keep in mind the following:
- Authors of journal articles always have an argument; they are trying to convince you of something
- Authors can be both good and bad:
- Good: authors present you with new, research-based information
- Bad: authors
can be biased and only present one side of the story
- You are an author too! Your thoughts and judgments about journal articles are worthwhile, so don't just take what other authors say on blind faith - question them!
How to Approach the Article
When you read journal articles, always remember that YOU are going to write a paper based on what you read. So, do the following:
- Keep in mind your research question (ex. "What is leadership in nursing?")
- Focus on the information in the article that is relevant to your research question (skim over other parts)
- Question everything you read - not everything is 100% true or correct
- Think critically about what you read and try to build your own argument based on it
Steps to Read the Article
- Look at the structure of the article
(most scientific articles follow the same specific format)
- Abstract (summary of the whole article)
- Introduction (why they did the research)
- Methodology (how they did the research)
- Results (what happened)
- Discussion (what the results mean)
- Conclusion (what they learned)
- References (whose research they read)
- Read the abstract and conclusion first (these have the main points)
- If you find anything in the abstract or conclusion that is important for your paper, search for the information
- If you need more information, then read through whole sections (usually discussion or results section)
How to Take Notes on the Article
There are a few major ways to take notes, but this is a personal style choice. Try different ways, but use the one that fits you best. Below are some suggestions for note-taking:
- Pay attention to what each section is about. The Abstract, Discussion, and Conclusion sections usually have the most important information.
- Take notes while you are reading (that way you don't have to go back and re-read it when you write your paper)
- Write summarizing notes for main points (in the margin, or on a separate piece of paper)
- Highlight only very important quotes or terms
How to Reference the Article
There are two main ways to reference an article in your paper:
- Use quotations when the author’s original words are so special that you cannot reword it.
- Usually, use quotations for definitions.
- A good rule of thumb: 1 quotation per page maximum.
- Paraphrasing (Summarizing)
- Use paraphrasing to tell your reader in your own words what the author had to say, in detail or in general terms.
- This is most commonly used in academic writing.
- A good rule of thumb: when writing a literature review, use 2-3 paraphrases per paragraph.