How to (Efficiently) Read Journal Articles! + FREE Printable Worksheet

January 5, 2017
If we are being honest, I think getting through a research project is one of those #relatablecollegethings that Buzzfeed always forgets to mention in their articles. Research is a “necessary evil” in any major and in many classes, but after drowning in articles during the past semester, I’ve found that it can actually be kind of fun and incredibly eye opening.
So, you’ve done a Google Scholar/PubMed (if you’re in the medical field)/Library Database search and collected all the articles you want to read. Now what?

Start with a purpose

Journal articles are long, and reading them without direction or purpose will just decrease your productivity and increase your frustration. Therefore, I think the most important thing is to go into your reading with a purpose; what do you want to get out of the article? If you are writing a paper, what is your thesis? Write this down, and keep it in the back of your mind as you begin your research.


It’s probably the first thing you see on the page, and it’s there for a reason! The abstract is designed to give you an at-a-glance idea of what the entire paper is about, from introduction to conclusion. Reading the abstract for consistency with your desired theme is key to efficiency in research; if the paper does not seem to align, scrap it & move on. Hundreds of papers are published daily, and if you find 10 articles from a broad Google Scholar search, chances are that only 1 or 2 of them are actually pertinent to your specific topic.Save time and read the abstract!


Identify the main idea of the paper

Otherwise known as the hypothesis, it is the reason the researchers conducted this experiment/study – the big question they are trying to answer. Make sure to write it down and keep it in mind, as it’s key to understanding every aspect of the paper. (protip: it’s typically found at the end of the Introduction!)


Feel free to jump around

I’m definitely guilty of having a tendency to approach a journal article like a novel, and I’ve found that this is the least effective way to read this type of writing. You don’t have to read the whole paper straight through. Instead, you can jump around as you wish in order to tailor your reading experience to your needs! I find that the most effective pattern for me is: Abstract, Introduction, Conclusion, Methods, Results, Discussion, but feel free to approach it however you wish.

Don’t be intimidated

Journal articles write at a high level and use big words, but don’t let that discourage you. Google the words/acronyms, and continue on with your research. The more articles you read, the more acclimated you’ll become to the jargon.

Take notes! 

It’s easy to go highlighter-crazy (it feels like everything is important!), and the chances of you truly reading every single one of the phrases you highlighted is slim when there are a lot. Jot down key background information, the basics of the method used in the experiment/study, pertinent results, and relevant conclusions. If you’re writing a research paper/article review, these will be particularly helpful to you when writing.

Commit, and get sucked in! 

Don’t let the one paper be the be-all-end-all of your research; it’s important to gain an expansive view of your topic of choice, and one person’s perspective is not enough to provide that. Look at the articles the authors cited to gain a better understanding of a particular part of the paper, or use Google Scholar to find articles that cited the one you just read – you’ll be surprised at what you find!

Enjoy yourself! 

If you’re a nerd like me and love to read these articles, there is some truly valuable and interesting information hidden in the big words. Let it sink in and come away from it a little more intelligent than before!

Click the image below to download a free guided worksheet to help you organize your notes!

Have you ever had to read a journal article for research before? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below!

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