How to find and read a journal article, chapter or book

Dr Anna Marie Roos, University of Lincoln

The purpose of this resource is to show you how to

  • read source materials analytically and efficiently.
  • find materials relevant to your research.

Let’s start by defining our terms.

What is a journal article? When historians have information to add to the body of knowledge in their field of study, they usually write up their findings for inclusion in a historical journal. Before it is published, these articles go through a process of peer review.

A journal article is sometimes called a peer-reviewed article, or a scholarly research article. Together, journal articles in a particular field are often referred to as Literature.

Journal articles are most often primary research articles. However, they can also be review articles, in which a piece of research, usually a book or a number of recent publications in the case of history, is reviewed by an independent expert.

What is peer review? Peer review refers to articles that have been critiqued by a panel of experts (usually at least two). Articles are judged, ideally anonymously (known as blind peer review), as to their originality, their significance, their awareness of historiography and historical context, and their overall quality.

Structure: A journal article has discrete parts that dictate an effective reading strategy… in other words, do not read it beginning to end like a piece of light fiction.

Some journal articles have abstracts, in which the main argument, sources used, and historiography are summarised in a paragraph.

Next will be the introduction with the main argument and historiographic context

Then, we will see the main body where the historical evidence for the argument is presented.

Finally, the conclusion, where the argument is summarised and there may also be authorial suggestions for future research.

How to read the article

If the article has an abstract, read it and consider if it is relevant to your research.

Then, proceed to the introduction, paying special attention to the first paragraph or two. The author will state his/her claim or argument, and also how their argument fits into or challenges received historiography (the ideas of other historians). Their article can suggest a new theoretical approach or methodology, consider a new set of sources, or provide a reinterpretation of sources that are already well known.

Then read the conclusion, which will summarize the argument.

By now, you should have a good grasp of the article’s contents.

Next, look at the body of the article, and read the first sentence of each paragraph, which should give you the main elements of support for the author’s argument. Is the author’s argument persuasive? Does the evidence support the author’s conclusions? Is the article balanced and supported by verifiable facts?

Finally, ask yourself, do you agree or disagree with the content of the article and the arguments used to persuade the reader?  Answering this question, more than anything at all, helps you to form your OWN argument for your paper or review.

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