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WAC/Health Sciences

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

  1. Look at the structure of the article (most scientific articles follow the same specific format)
    1. Abstract (summary of the whole article)
    2. Introduction (why they did the research)
    3. Methodology (how they did the research)
    4. Results (what happened)
    5. Discussion (what the results mean)
    6. Conclusion (what they learned)
    7. References (whose research they read)
  2. Read the abstract and conclusion first (these have the main points)
  3. If you find anything in the abstract or conclusion that is important for your paper, search for the information
  4. 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:

  • Quoting
    • 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.

Example of How to Read and Take Notes (click here)