How to Read a Research Study Article

How to Read a Research Study Article

Know the structure of a research study article.

A research study article will consistently contain the following sections Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References. Some section names may change slightly, e.g. Methods might be Research Methods or Methodology. If you don’t find these sections in a journal article, then you don’t have a research study article.


Summary of the key points of the article: the purpose of the study and a hypothesis, the methodology used, who was studied, and the findings. Read this first, but don’t rely on it solely to draw conclusions about the study.


Contains a survey of the relevant background for a study, a context for the study, and the hypothesis (i.e. the specific predictions to be tested). It will also usually contain a review of prior studies related to the same topic.

  • What question did the researchers want to answer?
  • What is the overall purpose of the research? What larger question is this a part of? How does the researchfit into the context of its field? Is it, for example, attempting to settle a controversy? Show the validity of a new technique? Open up a new field of inquiry?
  • Do you agree with the author’s rationale for studying the question in this way?
  • What is the background of this topic? What has previous research in this area demonstrated?
  • What are the hypotheses of the paper and the ways this will be tested?


Describes the approach taken in the study. This section provides detailed information about the research instrument used, (e.g. questionnaire), subjects (e.g. women between the ages of 50 and 70), procedures, and the approach to data analysis.

  • Who were the participants in the study, how many were there, what was the sex and ethnicity of the parents, and how did the authors find them?
  • Do the participants fairly represent the populations under study?
  • What methods did the researchers use in the study to try to answer their questions?
  • What was actually measured?
  • Were the measurements appropriate for the questions the researcher was approaching?
  • Often, researchers need to use “indicators” because they cannot measure something directly–for example,using babies’ birth weight to indicate nutritional status. Were the measures in this research clearly relatedto the variables in which the researchers (or you) were interested?
  • Try to get a clear picture of what was done at each step. It is a good idea to make an outline and/or sketchof the procedures and instruments.
  • Keep notes of your questions; some of them may be simply technical, but others may point to morefundamental considerations that you will use for reflection and criticism below.


Data is summarized in this section, and relationships among variables and/or differences among groups are reported. These analyses should directly reflect the predictions originally described in the Introduction. Further comparisons may also be included to clarify findings or to explore unanticipated findings.

    • What are the major findings?
    • Were enough of the data presented so that you feel you can judge for yourself how the experiment turnedout?
    • Did you see patterns or trends in the data that the author did not mention? Were there problems that werenot addressed?
    • Pay particular attention to tables and graphs. What data are presented in the tables/graphs and what dothey tell us? The figures and tables are the heart of most papers. A scientist will often read the figures and tables before deciding whether it is worthwhile to read the rest of the article! What does it mean to “understand” a figure? You understand a figure when you can redraw it and explain it in plain English words.
    • This section explains the statistical analyses that led the authors to their conclusions. It will test your knowledge of statistics, as well as research terms such as correlation coefficient, dependent and independent variables, subject variables, main effect, interaction, and interrater reliability, to name a few.


Results are summarized in narrative form as opposed to statistics or numbers. The ways in which the study’s results coincide with the hypothesis and previous studies will also be discussed, as well as suggestions for the need for further studies on the topic.

    • Do you agree with the conclusions drawn from the data?
    • Are these conclusions over-generalized or appropriately careful?
    • Are there other factors that could have influenced, or accounted for, the results?
    • What further experiments would you think of, to continue the research or to answer remaining questions?
    • What are the policy implications of the research findings and what future research do the authors suggestto contribute to this goal?
    • What is the value of this research for real-life application and/or for public policy?
    • Did you find the research interesting? What did you learn from it? What more would you like to know?


Listing of the sources cited in the article such as books and articles, as well as sources not directly used but are relevant to the topic. NOTE: Use the Reference list to find still other sources on your topic!Adapted from:

Anonymous. How to read a research study article. Retrieved from: _to_Read_a_Research_Study_Article.doc+how+to+read+a+research+article&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srci d=ADGEEShbJDX8RE4fdTlIWoA74SaFipgPMEpl1JwnUt4Brnbxc4UjA3WN7uWTkNzgRmwYZUmc HmQtJ_h7u2psG3JewMef5wKvDm87WjFqW6uImzgf2KKrLd7YBUREOp0IfEvyWqPgxW AM&sig=A HIEtbQ3EnGnk6_UNBbZF-wBSmnD_Z13kw

Franzoi, S.L., & Ratlif-Crain, J. (2003). Guide to reading research articles. An Instructor’s manual to accompany social psychology. 3rd ed. (pp.29-30). Boston:McGraw-Hill.

McNeal, A. How to read a scientific research paper. Retrieved from

Net Lab: PsycAbilities. How to read a research article and evaluate the research. Retrieved from