How to Read & Understand a Scholarly Academic Journal Article

February 13, 2023

Description: Peer-reviewed academic articles are not an easy read! Here are some reading comprehension tips to help students cut through the jargon to the main point.

Assigned to read an academic journal article for a college class? If this feels a little intimidating, that's understandable. Journal articles are notoriously difficult to read and are frequently written in field-specific jargon. When it comes to keeping up with a college reading load, journal articles can be one of the biggest obstacles to staying on top of reading assignments.

However, there's often quite a bit of useful information or scholarly arguments buried within all that jargon, so with a little work, the article might just be a good read. Particularly, for those students who ask to “help me write my essay or academic paper” Moreover, once a student gets the hang out of comprehending a journal article, then he or she can start analyzing and critiquing the author(s) work, which is why many professors assign students to read these articles.

Here are some tips for understanding the content of academic journal articles.

What is an Academic Journal Article?

An academic journal is a small "magazine" type publication that's published to showcase the research of a given academic field. For example, the Journal of Abnormal Psychology is read by professors who teach and conduct research in the field of abnormal psychology. The articles in this journal are published by professors and researchers in this field and focus on the latest abnormal psychology research.

Academic journals are considered high-quality if they are peer-reviewed journals. This means that articles are published only after they are reviewed by experts in the field. This is a competitive process, and most authors are rejected after their articles are reviewed initially by a set of peers. Articles that are not rejected outright are usually sent back for revision and may be accepted only if the reviewers approve of the revisions. Because of this rigorous process, academic journal articles are considered to be credible, scholarly sources.

Unfortunately, just because a peer-reviewed source is considered to be of high quality does not mean it is easy to read. These articles are written specifically for professionals and academics with a high level of education and knowledge, and people outside this field may be a little lost.

How to Read an Academic Journal Article

So what's the best way to get through one of these articles? Here are a few tips.

First, read the abstract. An academic article abstract is a summary of the contents of the article, including the research findings. Often the abstract is written in simpler language than the rest of the article, so start there.

Next, read the introduction of the article, followed by the conclusion or discussion section of the article (wherever the research of the article is summarized in-depth). The middle part of the article probably contains a literature review, a discussion of the type of research being conducted, and other more complicated information. Go back and read this only after getting as good a grab as possible of the main ideas and findings of the article by reading the introduction and conclusion.

Reading Comprehension Skills and Academic Journal Articles

As with any difficult reading material, it's helpful to go back to your fourth-grade reading class and practice good reading comprehension skills to improve productivity by finding the main points. By reading the abstract, introduction, and conclusion, and by looking for more clues such as subject headings and references to the article in other readings, the main ideas will become more apparent. Once the reader knows the main idea, the rest of the article will become much easier to understand.

Another useful reading comprehension skill that may help with a journal article: outlining. Once the reader determines the main point, he or she organizes the rest of the information into an outline. The headers of the article probably can serve as the main points. Keep the outline fairly simple, and leave out small details that don't supplement the main point in any significant way.

Here are a few reading comprehension questions that may help when reading a journal article:

  • What was the author(s) purpose for writing this article?
  • Who was this article written for?
  • What is the main argument?
  • What does the author(s) hope to accomplish by writing this article?
  • How does this article relate to similar literature in the field?
  • What kind of research was conducted?
  • How was this research conducted?
  • What research methods were used?
  • How did the author present the research findings?
  • Are the author(s) findings or arguments controversial? Why or why not?
  • What political biases or perspectives, if any, are apparent in this article?

Academic journal articles are not exactly light reads, and they require some time and effort to make sense of them. However, with a little practice, students really can get the hang out of understanding the style and logic of these articles, so hang in there and don't give up.


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