How to Read Research

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the basic structure of a psychological research article

In this course and throughout your academic career, you’ll be reading journal articles (meaning they were published by experts in a peer-reviewed journal) and reports that explain psychological research. It’s important to understand the format of these articles so that you can read them strategically and understand the information presented. Scientific articles vary in content or structure, depending on the type of journal to which they will be submitted. Psychological articles and many papers in the social sciences follow the writing guidelines and format dictated by the American Psychological Association (APA). In general, the structure follows: abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and references.

  • Abstract: the abstract is the concise summary of the article. It summarizes the most important features of the manuscript, providing the reader with a global first impression on the article. It is generally just one paragraph that explains the experiment as well as a short synopsis of the results.
  • Introduction: this section provides background information about the origin and purpose of performing the experiment or study. It reviews previous research and presents existing theories on the topic.
  • Method: this section covers the methodologies used to investigate the research question, including the identification of participants, procedures, and materials as well as a description of the actual procedure. It should be sufficiently detailed to allow for replication.
  • Results: the results section presents key findings of the research, including reference to indicators of statistical significance.
  • Discussion: this section provides an interpretation of the findings, states their significance for current research, and derives implications for theory and practice. Alternative interpretations for findings are also provided, particularly when it is not possible to conclude for the directionality of the effects. In the discussion, authors also acknowledge the strengths and limitations/weaknesses of the study and offer concrete directions about for future research.

Link to Learning

Watch this video for an explanation on how to read scholarly articles. Look closely at the example article shared just before the two minute mark.

Practice identifying these key components in the following experiment: Food-Induced Emotional Resonance Improves Emotion Recognition.

Try It