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NUTR 225/240: (General) Human Nutrition

Anatomy of a Scholarly Research Article

Reading scholarly research articles can be challenging. These articles are written by experts for other experts and convey the results of original research conducted by the authors. Scholarly research articles (also sometimes called peer-reviewed articles or refereed articles) use language that can be hard to understand. But once you understand the parts of the article, reading it may be a bit easier. Science and social science research articles usually include the following parts:  introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Take a look at this Anatomy of a Scholary Article (from NCSU) to learn more about each part of a scholarly research article. Click on each section for an explanation of that section.

What Does Peer Review Mean?

[Source: Library How-To: Scholarly vs. Popular Articles]

So, what is "peer review"? This phrase refers to a quality-control process used by many academic journals.  Authors who are doing research submit a paper they have written to a journal. The journal editor then sends the article to the author's peers (researchers and scholars who are in the same discipline) for review. The reviewers determine if the article should be published based on the quality of the research. They evaluate this quality based on a number of factors, including:

  • Did the researchers use appropriate methods?
  • Is the research question important?
  • Is the data valid?
  • Are the authors' conclusions reasonable, based on the data?
  • Is the research original - does it add to our knowledge of the topic?

They do not repeat the experiment or study to see if the results were accurate. This process is important because it validates the research and gives it a sort of "seal of approval" from others in the research community.

Watch this video for a more in-depth overview of how peer review works (NCSU) (5:11 min.)


Article Structure is Clue to Peer Review

Scholarly, peer-reviewed, original (empirical) research articles are research articles that have been evaluated and approved by other experts in the discipline (the process of peer-reivew) before being accepted for publication in a journal. They almost all follow a predictable pattern and contain the following elements:

1. AUTHOR:  The author(s) is always listed with the credentials that identify the author's expertise, such as university or research affiliation or the author's academic degree. Contrast this to news articles where the author may or may not be identified (and affiliation or academic credentials are not identified).

2. CONTENT:  There is an abstract at the beginning of the article which summarizes the content. The article almost always follows the pattern of having these sections: introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and references. News articles, scientific letters and book reviews do not follow this pattern. 

3. ORIGINAL DATA:  Usually, original data will be presented in as charts and graphs illustrating the results of experiments. Contrast this to a news feature, which pulls together results and ideas from other researchers' work. EXCEPTION - Reviews can also be peer reviewed. While they do summarize other researchers' work, authors of a review also add their own summary and repackage the work in a new way to help demonstrate something that is original.

4. LANGUAGE:  The article language tends to be formal and technical, and is particular to the discipline in which it is written.  It is geared to other researchers in the same subject.  Contrast this with popular articles that are written at an informal and basic level for easy understanding by the general public.


Are All Research Articles the Same?

Not all research articles are the same.The following types of articles are usually lumped under the heading "research articles"  but actually vary in significant ways.

  • Empirical research articles: Articles that describe the results of empirical research - researched based on experimentation or observation (what most people typically think of when they think of research). These articles usually have a standard "research paper" format: Abstract, Introduction/Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion/Conclusion, References.
  • Literature review articles: Articles that summarize, evaluate, and interpret an existing group of empirical research articles on a given topic. These articles generally do not have the standard research paper format but are typically organized by the themes present in the body of existing empirical research reviewed.
  • Meta-analysis articles: Articles that present the statistical analysis of the combined results of a carefully selected existing group of empirical research articles. These articles usually have a standard "research paper" format (see Empirical research articles above), though they are not empirical research.