Reading for Argument in an Article

In some cases, authors of journal articles clearly identify the arguments they are making, using language such as, “In this article we argue…,” or, “Based on our results, we assert…” Other times, though, such language is not used, whether because the authors are writing to inform more so than to persuade or because the language of their arguments is less explicit. When reading for the argument in an article then, you need not only to look closely at the language that is used, but also to be strategic in what parts of the argument you look for in which sections of the article. At least on your first read of the article, don’t read in chronological order from start to finish.

parts of a journal article

Academic journal articles are generally organized according to the following sections:

  1. Abstract, which is a synopsis of the article
  2. Introduction, which identifies the focus of the research (this can include research questions and hypotheses) and the context surrounding it
  3. Literature Review, which may be combined with the introduction and which functions to synthesize the scholarship on the topic, telling the reader what we know, how we know it, and what we still don’t know (due to gaps/flaws/limitations of the research)
  4. Methods or Methodology, which explains how the authors gathered their data as well as any theories that informed the data collection and/or analysis
  5. Results or Findings, which outlines the data that were gathered
  6. Discussion, which explains/analyzes the data
  7. Conclusion, which reiterates major findings, discusses limitations of the research (especially if not addressed earlier), and often proposes suggestions for further research
  8. Bibliography, which cites the sources the author used.

As you can tell, each section of the article serves a specific purpose, and you can use that to help guide you in your reading for argument.

The thesis or main idea of the article (which may or may not be an argument depending on the author’s purpose and the language he/she uses) will generally appear in the abstract, introduction, and/or conclusion; these are the three sections you should consult when first trying to grasp the major takeaway of the article then, preferably beginning with the abstract since it is a short synopsis, often just a single paragraph, that appears at the start of the article.

In contrast to the thesis or main idea, it can be a more difficult process to identify the reasons and evidence that support the claim, particularly since a journal article is not organized like a traditional argument-based paper.

Because a journal article is not laid out like a traditional paper in which there are topic sentences throughout that build to support the claim, you may find these reasons spread across multiple sections of the article, whether directly stated or just implied. For instance, the literature review, in synthesizing sources on the topic, may address the relationship between cyberbullying and the development of depression, whereas the discussion and conclusion sections may highlight the other reasons. Similarly, the evidence to support the reasons may appear in the literature review, the findings/results, the discussion, and/or the conclusion sections.

Therefore, you should take as your starting point searching the abstract, introduction, and/or conclusion for the thesis or main idea. From there, consider reading the discussion section, and then returning to the earlier sections of the article, including the methods and findings/results. This approach will enable you to more efficiently identify what the argument is (if the author is presenting one rather than just informing) rather than reading the article in chronological order.