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Nursing program: Research skills: Reading Articles

Provides starting points for research in TCC's Nursing Program

How to read an academic article

How to Read An Article

This advice comes from Julie Benson, Nursing Professor at TCC, MHA, MN, CNE, ARNP:

Reading an article in a professional journal takes a certain amount of special attention because the style of writing is somewhat different from reading a magazine or textbook. It is assumed that readers of such articles have the professional knowledge to understand the jargon and language of the discipline. Journals are scientific literature relating to specific areas of research, techniques, and applications. These materials are often archived to document the development and advancement of a given field. Journal articles must be read carefully and slowly to grasp all the details as well as the author’s intent.

The reason you are being asked to read a professional journal article is to expose you to this vital means of gaining new cutting edge information about the field of helping. It is important to get a feeling for the nature of scientific inquiry and writing. As you progress in the field you too may write articles relating to your work, or you may just use this genre to keep up to date. Either way, this initial exposure is meant to give you a guide of what to look for as you read and how to analytically examine the information.

The majority of professional writing that is published in Nursing related journals uses a format established by the American Psychological Association. This style is formal, and as a general rule there are seven parts to a professional journal article; Title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and bibliography.


Read the title – it often can tell you what that article is about.


An abstract is a short summary of what the authors set out to find, what they got, and how they see their findings in light of the rest of the helping field. This is the first thing you read, if there is one. This will help you determine if this article has relevance to your work, and if it is something you want to spend time on.


The introduction usually gives some background material, explaining why the research was done. This section usually goes into detail explaining other studies and findings and should be read carefully. This review of what has been done previously will serve as a basis for the problem under current study. In some cases, this section will merely list related articles which you read to gather more facts about the subject. Skim this kind of introduction and refer back to it only if you find a need to do further research. Most importantly, the introduction typically ends with a statement of the current author’s research hypothesis.


The methods section includes the kind of population used for the study. The other part of the methods section to be carefully examined is the outline of the actual procedure used in the research. You must understand the procedure before you go on to the rest of the article.


The first thing to do with the results section is to try to summarize the findings. Then read over the results section more carefully looking for added points the authors might have noticed in the data. This section should stimulate questions. “Why were the date presented in a certain format? Were any data not reported and why? What perspective do the authors have that may skew the results?”


In the discussion section the authors usually review the results of their research. They then will try to tie their findings in with research done by others. As you read the discussion, refer back to the results section whenever necessary.


This section may be referred to as the "Reference” section. Whatever the label, this section is a list of the sources consulted for this research, and sometimes additional sources of interest. If you find the article you have read has stimulated your curiosity on a given subject, use listings on this section to further your own research.

Other helpful tips

Helpful Tips

Your textbook may include a glossary or other descriptions and definitions for unfamiliar terms, concepts or procedures. The TCC library also has a wealth of nursing, medical, pharmaceutical, etc., dictionaries and handbooks.

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