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Understanding Scientific Literature: Identifying a Research Article

How to tell if the article you found is a research article

When you search the databases for articles your search results may include magazine or newspaper articles, review articles, book reviews, editorials etc. If you have been directed by your professor to include a "research article" in a project you are working on you may feel a little lost. Here are some pointers on how to determine if the article you found is a primary source research article. 

A majority of research articles published in the sciences follow the same format and have the same components:

  1. Abstract - Summarizes the article. The abstract is found at the beginning of the article, and often times on the database entry page for the article. 
  2. Introduction - States the research question or hypothesis and provides background information on the research. 
  3. Materials and Methods - Describes the materials and methods used in the research. 
  4. Results - Lists the results, frequently in tabular or graph form, without commentary or discussion. 
  5. Discussion - Highlights and discusses the important results. The discussion may also highlight potential flaws in the research as well as point out where more research is needed.
  6. Acknowledgements - Thank individuals for their contributions to the research process.
  7. Works cited - List of the materials cited in the article.  

Scanning an article for these seven components will help you determine if the article you are looking at is a research article. Review articles may follow a similar format, but they will list databases and search strategies under the materials and methods. 

Keep in mind the research looks different in different fields. The materials and methods for research in the social sciences looks very different from the materials in chemistry. 

Tips on Reading a Research Paper

Is it peer review?

Many of our databases allow you to limit searches to content from peer-reviewed journals only. 

Remember! Not all content in a peer-reviewed journal is peer-reviewed. The editorials, letters to the editor, and book reviews are typically not peer-reviewed. 

What is Peer Review?

You may wonder what peer-review is, and why it is so important. Watch this video from the NCSU Libraries to find out!