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How to Read an Academic Journal Article

What Is in an Academic Journal

Publishing in scholarly, academic journals is one of the main ways researchers share their work with each other. You will find many types of things included in an academic journal, but the main purpose is to present scholars’ findings written up in primary or original articles, which undergo a peer review process, meaning they are systematically critiqued by other scholars in the relevant fields and judged for relevance, accuracy, validity, significance, and appropriate use of research methodologies, before being accepted for publication.

Here is what you will find in a typical academic journal:

Primary / Original articles - Detailed presentations of the results of the authors' original research. These will likely be the type of article you will use most. See the section on "Anatomy of a Journal Article" to see how they are typically structured. These are peer reviewed before being published.

Review article - A methodical review, critique, and synthesis of a set (usually large) of primary research articles on a particular topic, to provide an overview of current research on that topic. If you can find a recently published review article on your topic, that is usually a great place to start your research (they usually include the word ‘review’ in the title, so look for those).

Meta-analysis - Takes the data from a set of other studies (often previously reported in primary articles) to perform a statistical analysis of a much larger combined data set. So the experiments, field work, etc., to collect data are not original to the study, but the statistical analysis is, so these are peer reviewed.

Methodology articles - Detailed descriptions of new or improved methods, tests, or procedures for experiments, fieldwork, data analysis, etc.

Theoretical articles - Contribute to the theoretical foundations of a field or discipline, by proposing a new theoretical approach or analyzing current theoretical principles.

Short reports / News / Brief communications - Brief reports about, or data from, ongoing original research that may be of timely interest to other researchers. Depending on the field or journal, these may undergo different levels of brief or less thorough peer review, or only editorial review, before publication.

Editorial / Commentary / Letters - Brief opinion pieces written by a journal's editors or submitted by readers, offering commentaries on content published in the journal or on relevant work in the field. Letters submitted by readers are reviewed by editors before publication, but they are not peer reviewed studies, just informed opinions.

Book reviews - Reviews of recently published academic books relevant to the field covered by the journal, written by scholars in the field.