How to Read an Academic Article

How to Read an Academic Article

Don't leave research in the hands of professional academics even though specialty is required to make progress in many academic fields. Being enrolled in university or earning a PhD isn't a prerequisite for learning about a topic or doing independent research.

Tools like Sci Hub give you direct, easy, and free access to otherwise blocked and paywalled academic research, so it's easier than ever before to study and get access to information you're curious about.

If money isn't a deterrence, maybe interpretability of an article is. Some commons problems readers face when reading academic articles is unfamiliar vocabulary, misinterpretation of a paper's significance or statistics, and naivety and bias in discerning a paper's reliability and relevancy.


Key Features of a Common Academic Article

Let's get familiar with what an academic article or published paper looks like.

There are published articles for most every topic and relevant journals that publicize them. Academic journals are specialized publications containing scholarly articles authored by experts and researchers in specific fields. These journals provide a platform for disseminating research findings, theories, and analyses to the academic community and public.

Peer review, a stringent evaluation process carried out by experts in the same field, ensures the credibility and reliability of published content. Academic journals play a vital role in advancing knowledge, promoting scholarly discourse, and fostering communication among researchers, contributing significantly to the growth of various disciplines.

  1. Title: The title is a brief and descriptive header that should be informative and reflect the content of the article.

  2. Authors and Affiliations: The names of the authors are provided, as are their affiliations (institutions or universities with which they are affiliated).

  3. Abstract: The abstract is a quick explanation of the article's primary aims, methods, results, and conclusions. It offers readers with an overview of the research without requiring them to read the complete article.

  4. Introduction: The introduction establishes the backdrop for the study, offers the research question or hypothesis, and discusses the significance of the research issue. It explains why the study is being conducted.

  5. Methodology: The methodology portion of the study describes the research strategy, data collection procedures, and any statistical or analytical tools utilized. It enables future researchers to reproduce the work if necessary.

  6. Results: The results section summarizes the study's findings in a straightforward and ordered manner. Tables, graphs, and figures are frequently used to convey data and statistical studies.

  7. Discussion: In the discussion section, the findings are interpreted in light of the research topic and preceding literature. It describes the consequences of the findings and notes any study limitations.

  8. Conclusion: The conclusion section highlights the research's primary findings and analyzes their larger implications. It may also propose future study directions.

  9. References: All sources cited in the text are included in the reference list.


Non-academics can benefit most from paying attention to the abstract, introduction, results, discussion, and conclusion sections of an academic article.

The abstract provides a concise summary of the entire study, while the introduction offers context and significance. The results section presents main findings in a visual format, and the discussion section interprets these outcomes and highlights real-world implications. Lastly, the conclusion offers a concise overview of the research's main takeaways. Focusing on these sections allows non-academics to grasp the key points and relevance of the research without getting lost in technical details.

Non-academics can benefit most from paying attention to the abstract, introduction, results, discussion, and conclusion sections of an academic article.


Reading an abstract can be helpful for quickly understanding a research article. The abstract serves as a valuable tool to grasp the research's main points without diving into the entire article. Focus on the concise language, objectives, key findings, implications, and research methods mentioned. Avoid getting overwhelmed by the details and consider how the research relates to your interests or needs.

Reading multiple abstracts on a topic can provide a broader perspective. If possible, prioritize open-access articles for unrestricted access to the full text if needed, or use Sci-Hub for paywalled articles. 



Reading an introduction can provide valuable context and understanding of a research article. Look for research objectives, background information, significance, and gaps in knowledge. Follow the flow of the content and take notes if needed. The introduction sets the stage for the research and helps you engage with the study's purpose and relevance.


Effectively read the results section by focusing on visuals, identifying key findings, considering context, and noting statistical significance. Look for patterns and take your time to understand the implications. Relate the results to the introduction and seek additional explanations for unfamiliar terms. 


Read the discussion section by contextualizing the findings, identifying interpretations, and considering limitations. Look for implications, comparisons with previous literature, and suggestions for future research. Be cautious about overgeneralization and seek clarity on technical terms. Engage critically with the authors' arguments and reflect on the research's broader significance. The discussion provides valuable insights into the study's results and their implications for the field of research.


The conclusion summarizes the main findings, relates to the introduction, and notes implications and significance. Avoid overgeneralization and engage with the overall argument. Reflect on the research's significance and potential impact. 

Critical Exercise: Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

You will practice identifying the major components of a scholarly paper and extracting information from its many sections in this assignment. This exercise will be based on the article "The Evolution of Supertrees."

The link to the article:

Notice: this article contains a paywall. You must subscribe before the website will let you gain access to the full reading. This is a great time to use Sci-Hub!

First, load Sci-Hub in a new window. Look at the article, locate and copy the DOI from "The Evolution of Supertrees" ( Paste the DOI into Sci-Hub's search bar, and hit enter. Now, you will see the complete piece.

The steps for this exercise are as follows:

  • Title: Identify the title of the article.

  • Author: Identify the name(s) of the author(s) of the article.

  • Publication Date: Find the publication date of the article.

  • DOI (Digital Object Identifier): Locate the DOI (if provided) for the article.

  • Abstract: Read the abstract of the article and answer: what is the purpose of the article as stated in the abstract?

  • Introduction: Read the introduction section of the article and answer: what is the context or background information provided in the introduction? What is the research question or objective of the study?

  • Methodology: Find the methodology section in the article and answer: what research methods were used in the study? How was the data collected and analyzed?

  • Results: Go to the results section and answer: what are the main findings or outcomes of the study? Were statistical analyses or visual aids used to present the results?

  • Discussion: Read the discussion section and answer: how do the authors interpret the results? What are the implications of the findings? Are there any suggestions for future research?

  • Conclusion: Locate the conclusion section and answer: what are the main takeaways or summaries of the study's findings as presented in the conclusion?

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