Not all journal articles are created equal. While all articles published in peer reviewed journals have undergone some level of editorial scrutiny, there is no guarantee that the conclusions or results presented in the article are a) valid or b) relevant to your particular question or research need.
In order to effectively assess the quality/relevance of a journal article, it is helpful to understand how they are constructed, and what to look for. In general, research articles follow this format:
A brief paragraph at the beginning of the article. A well-written abstract should include a summary of the important elements of the article: what research question/hypothesis is being examined; what research methodology was used and what population was studied; the results of the study; major implications (if any) of the results.
Reading an abstract will give you an excellent idea as to whether or not the article is relevant to your question. Ask:
|Introduction/Review of Literature||
This first section of the article will provide background information about: the need for the research/study; the results (if any) of previous research on the same topic; and, what the researchers hope to accomplish with this study.
This section will outline the specific research methodology used by the authors. Ask:
This section will describe the results of the research, as well as the statistical analyses used by the researchers. Ask:
The final section of the article will restate the researchers' question/hypothesis, and discuss whether or not the results of the study provide significant evidence to answer that question. The authors will also discuss the clinical implications of the study, as well as suggestions for further research on the topic. Ask:
Here are some sites that offer additional tips on reading journal articles: