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ITI690: Inspired Teaching Inquiry: Recognize Research Articles

Identifying Research Articles

Confirm that it is a scholarly article. It should be published in a scholarly journal and not a newspaper or popular magazine. The authors should be experts in the field and not journalists. The article must have a reference list. If the article does not have these elements it is not scholarly, and it cannot be a research article.

The article should clearly state that the author(s) conducted research, ran surveys, did experiments, collected data, or otherwise gathered material on their own or with a team of researchers. It must be original research conducted by the authors of the research article, and needs to be identified as such.

A research article is different than a review article, which is a critical evaluation of material that has been previously published. This can be done to assess the state of the literature on a topic (which is a literature review), and to suggest steps for future research.

The abstract often has clues. Look for a sentence that says something like “this study examines…” or “we did research to find…” Such statements indicate that the author probably conducted original research

Source: McConnell Library, Radford University

Research articles typically follow a particular format, and include specific elements that show how the research was designed, how the data was gathered, how it was analyzed, and what the conclusions are. Sometimes these sections may be labeled a bit differently, but these basic elements are consistent:

Abstract: A brief, comprehensive summary of the article, written by the author(s) of the article.This abstract must be part of the article, not a summary in the database.

Introduction: This introduces the problem, tells you why it’s important, and outlines the background, purpose, and hypotheses the authors are trying to test. The introduction comes first, just after the abstract, and is usually not labeled.

Method: Tells the reader in detail how the research was conducted, and may be subdivided into subsections describing Materials, Apparatus, Subjects, Design, and Procedures.

Results: Summarizes the data and describes how it was analyzed. It should be sufficiently detailed to justify the conclusions. 

Discussion: The authors explain how the data fits their original hypothesis, state their conclusions, and look at the theoretical and practical implications of their research.

References: Lists the complete bibliography of sources cited in the research article.


Source: McConnell Library, Radford University

The highlighted areas below represent the typical sections found in a scholarly research article. Click the image for an interactive view.

Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Source: NCSU Libraries. Shared under the Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Primary research is conducted in the real world. When conducting primary research, the researcher will use one or more methods to collect data directly from the people or the things he or she is studying, rather than from books or articles already written about those things or people. Common methods of primary research are observation, interviewing, and surveys.

Secondary research is the kind of research you do in the library or online. When you are conducting secondary research, you're looking for sources of information that other experts, writers, and thinkers wrote about a subject. This kind of research is considered ‘secondary’ because it relies on data that has already been collected by other researchers.

Source: Forms of Primary Research. Authored by: Jeff Paschke-Johannes. Provided by: Ivy Tech Community College. License: CC BY: Attribution

Can You Identify a Research Study?

Look for indications that the authors of the following articles are writing about an original research study they conducted. Primary research and empirical research are synonymous terms for original research. Click each article title to view more information and to access the full text. Click the more links below the abstract to see which articles are author-conducted research studies.