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Research Articles and How to Spot Them

This guide is an introduction to finding and identifying scholarly resources.

Finding Research Articles

A good way to begin is by searching general databases that contain journals from many different fields. The most widely database used at Grace Library is Academic Search Complete, which is available through the Find Articles link on the library's home page. This resource contains professional journals from many different academic disciplines, as well as a wide range of popular magazines. 

After typing in your search terms, but before you run your search in the database, be sure to limit your search results to peer reviewed ("professional") journals only. Limiting your search to peer reviewed journals will not only give you research articles in your search results, but it will exclude articles from magazines, so you will have fewer and more relevant citations to sift through. 

After you have looked for articles in the database listed above, you can also find articles and citations for journals in one of the many subject specific databases listed on the Find Articles page. These databases cover only the professional journals of a given academic discipline. 

The above journal database sometimes supplies only citations and abstracts and not the full text of an article. In those cases, you should use the Journal Finder on the library homepage and search for the journal title to see if Grace Library owns it. If you are still unable to find it, you can request the article from another library using interlibrary loan (ILL).

Recognizing Research Articles

Even after doing a successful search in an appropriate database you will still have to determine which of the articles are research articles and which are not. Remember, all research articles are journal articles, but not all journal articles are research articles. So how can you tell which journal articles are research articles?

Ask yourself:

  1. Does the article have multiple authors? Most research articles have multiple authors. If it has only one author it is probably not a research article.
  2. How long is the article? If it is only one or two pages long, it is probably not a research article. It is safe to say that research articles are usually about a dozen or more pages in length.
  3. Read the abstract. Look for a sentence that says something like, "In this study, we..." or "We did research to find..." If you see a sentence that says one of these things, or something similar, this is a clear indication that you have found a citation to a research article.
  4. Now look at the article itself. If the full text is available, display it and scroll through. If the full text is not available, find the article in the print version of the journal and glance through it. Research articles all follow the format below, no matter what the field of endeavor. Does the article follow this format? Is the article divided into the parts listed below? If so, you have found what the instructor is after. 

The parts of a research article are:

  • Abstract: Summarizes the article's contents. This is written by the author(s) of the article.
  • Introduction: Orients the reader. This will tell the reader why the authors performed their particular research. The introduction usually begins with a literature review and does no receive a heading.
  • Method: Tells the reader how the research was conducted. This section may be subdivided into subsections describing materials, apparatus, subjects, design, and procedures.
  • Results: Summarizes the data collected.
  • Discussion: The authors explain how the data fits their original hypothesis, state their conclusions, and look at the theoretical and practical implications of their research.
  • References: Lists the complete bibliography of sources cited in the research article.

Sometimes different synonyms are used to head the various sections, but regardless of how the sections are headed, every research article will contain the sections listed above.


Sternberg, R.J. (1993). The psychologist's companion: A guide to scientific writing for students and researchers (3rd ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.