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Tips for Reading Scholarly Journal Articles in Psychology


Most empirical articles in the field of psychology follow the same format as outlined by the American Psychological Association (APA). This page will help you understand the purpose of the different sections of these articles. 

What is an empirical article? 

Empirical articles report the results of research that is based on actual observation and/or experimentation.  Authors of empirical articles will describe their hypotheses, why they did the research, who else has done similar research, how they collected their data, how the data was analyzed, any conclusions they are able to make, and areas for future investigation. 

Purpose of the sections of empirical articles
Section Function Use it for
Abstract Scholarly articles in the field of psychology always start with an abstract, which is a brief summary of the research that was conducted including the hypothesis, and a summary of the methods and results.  This section will also describe any implications of the results. This is a great section to read to find out if the article will be relevant to your own research.
Introduction The introduction is the section of the paper that immediately follows the abstract. This section of the paper discusses in detail what is being investigated, and  also includes a discussion of previous work that has been done on the topic at hand. Typically we call this the "literature review" section of the paper.  Authors will discuss how their hypothesis contributes to existing knowledge of the topic. This section gives you an overview of work that has been done on topics relating to the hypothesis of the article, and will often lead you to other relevant work that has been done in your area of interest. 
Method The method section details how data were gathered for the study. Information includes the study participants, the specific mechanics of the study, measures that were used, and detailed accounts of the procedure used for gathering data.  This section will help you understand the design of the experiment. This is particularly useful if you'd like to replicate the study. 
Results The results section tells the reader what results were found in the study and whether or not the hypothesis was confirmed or disconfirmed. This section will have detailed data and statistics, and will explain how the data was analyzed.  The results will tell you what the author/s found in the course of their experiment. 
Discussion The discussion section describes, in simple language, what implications can be found from the results of the experiment. Authors will also describe weaknesses in their study design, and what the results may mean in a broader context. Author's will often outline plans for future work in this section. 

The discussion section is typically easier to read than the method and results section, and it will help the reader understand the implications of the results of the experiment. 

References A bibliography, or list of references will be included at the end of every scholarly article in the field of psychology. This shows the reader what research the author looked at while designing their experiment.  This is a great place to look to find articles that are related to the one you are reading. If you're looking to build your own literature review, the references are a great place to start.