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English 102 - Walston: Reading Scholarly Sources

Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Do you ever wonder what's going on with the various sections of a scholarly journal article?

This video from North Caroline State University Libraries on "Anatomy of a Scholarly Article" helps learners identify the general purpose of each scholarly article section and what kind of information you're likely to find there. The NCSU Libraries folks are also those who brought us the (famous amongst librarians) original "Anatomy of a Scholarly Article" tutorial.

Depending on how you like to learn, here are additional information pages and tutorials that you'll find helpful:

Remember: skimming or selectively reading certain sections of a scholarly article can help you grasp its main message and whether it's useful-- then, if you think the article will be helpful for your research project, you can read it through more carefully later in your process.

What is a scholarly publication?

Scholarly sources are "peer-reviewed" essays and articles that use new research findings and theoretical tools to contribute to ongoing conversations within and across various disciplines. Since they tend to draw on relatively specialized vocabularies of those disciplines, they can sometimes be difficult reading. But they also pack a lot of thinking, insight, and research into a relatively small package.

Many books are also considered scholarly, though they typically do not go through the same peer-review process as journals. These are published by university or academic "trade" publishers.

Often, the difference between scholarly publications and other types of secondary sources (magazines, newspapers, & etc.) is that the former contain extensive footnotes and/or endnotes that document how and why the author makes the claims that ey does-- and what the limits of those claims are. While both types of publications tend to present you with lots of interesting (or uninteresting) information, only scholarly publications let you in on the secret of how that information was created by revealing the disagreements among "experts" as they research similar questions. This advantage of reading scholarly publications is that they allow you to enter into the creative process of knowledge-making by treating you as a fellow researcher who may want to extend, modify, and/or criticize the claims made in what you are reading.

Strategies for Reading Scholarly Sources

Questions to Ask Yourself as You Read

As you read (and reread) your scholarly sources, try to answer the following questions.

  1. What problem/question is the author posing? Who else seems to be engaged in the conversation about this problem/question? (Be specific.) How does that problem/question relate to and/or differ from the problem you're posing in your research project? (Remember that a problem is not a thesis or conclusion. Those come later.)

  2. What kind of knowledge, methods, and archives does the author use in order to address that problem/question? Are there other kinds of knowledge, methods, and archives that you think might be helpful, but that they author does not draw on?

  3. What is the author's argument? How do you assess it? (Are you persuaded by/satisfied with the author's argument?) How is that argument shaped by the evidence and methods the author uses (and doesn't use)?

  4. How might other scholars assess this article?