You won’t have time to read every source you find in-depth, so you will need to employ different strategies to help you read more efficiently. These strategies will ensure that you can get a broad understanding of your topic and dive into the details when necessary. To help with this process, we’ll explore the structure of a typical journal article and how it can be used to focus your reading efforts.

In brief:

  • Journal articles, which are commonly used in academic assignments, are presented in a largely standard way. A useful reading strategy includes navigating to different sections depending on what you are trying to achieve.
  • Skim a reading to make sure that it’s relevant to your topic and meets any assignment limitations.
  • Scan a reading to identify any specific information that is relevant to your assignment.
  • Only read intensively after you have established that it will be worth your time.

Navigating a journal article

Assignments often require the inclusion of scholarly research. Most commonly, this research is communicated through journal articles, so developing strategies to read them more efficiently is time well spent. Luckily, most journal articles will follow a similar structure and use headings, making it easier to know where to focus your attention.

The typical structure for a research article is as follows. Articles that are not reporting research (e.g. literature reviews) may not include a method or results section:

Abstract (summary)

A concise summary of the article, including the research methodology, results and what the findings might mean for the wider field.

Introduction (the why)

The authors introduce their topic, explain its importance and communicate their research questions (what they’re investigating) and hypothesis (what they expect to find). They may also provide an overview of the existing research – anything that is important for the reader to know so that they can understand the context in which the research is being performed (this is sometimes done in a separate ‘Literature Review’ section).

Methods (the how)

In articles reporting research, a section providing an overview of how the study was conducted will be included, with any relevant information about participants, the approach (surveys, interviews, experiments, etc.) and tools used. Including this information allows the research to be evaluated (strengths and weaknesses identified) and replicated (done again with a different context or participants).

Results (what happened)

This section will only be provided in research articles. Data is presented, usually in the form of tables, figures and graphs.

Discussion (what it means)

The authors explain the meaning of the data and evaluate whether the results successfully answer the research questions and support the initial hypothesis.

Conclusion (what did we learn)

Here the authors explain how their research fits into the wider understanding of the topic, the strengths and weaknesses of their study’s design, and recommendations on research next steps.


All research referenced in the article.


Skimming is a strategy where you read quickly and superficially – you give the source a quick glance. It’s a technique used in speed reading that requires the reader to focus on the main message of the article, rather than closely reading the whole thing. It’s likely that you will be skimming articles as part of the searching or discovery process.

Focus on:

  • Abstract or summary
  • Any headings or subheadings
  • Any lists or words in bold
  • Any images and tables

These elements of the reading should give you a strong sense of what the article is about and whether it is relevant to answering your assignment question.

You should also double check the date the article was published to ensure it meets any requirements that have been communicated as part of the assignment.


Scanning is a strategy where you look for something specific. When you’re using this technique, you seek out the keywords or concepts from your assignment question, concentrating on the information that’s most relevant to you.

Focus on:

  • The introduction, which provides an overview of the topic, and the focus or point of the research.
  • The thesis statement, which is usually the last sentence in the article introduction’s first paragraph. The thesis statement expresses the main idea, point, or claim.
  • The conclusion, which sums up the results and their significance.
  • Any headings and the first sentence of every paragraph. The first sentence of a paragraph introduces the topic of each paragraph. It will help you identify relevant paragraphs to read more closely.

HINT: Use CTRL + F (or Command + F on a Mac) to find specific words in a text.

When skimming and scanning, make sure that the source is at an appropriate level for your assignment. If you find it difficult to understand and wouldn’t be able to summarise the content in your own words, it may be aimed at a more advanced audience (some research is written exclusively for other experienced researchers). You might need to keep searching for something more appropriate.

Intensive reading

To read intensively means to read closely or carefully, ensuring that you understand important information and the author’s argument. Unlike skimming and scanning, when you’re reading intensively, you should read the source in its entirety to ensure that you get the full picture. Depending on the argument you wish to craft for your assignment, you may still choose to focus your efforts on particular sections of the article, such as the introduction and conclusion, and the collection or discussion of results. As you read, you should be actively thinking about what you are reading, keeping your assignment question and thesis statement at the forefront of your mind.

It is at this stage that you would make notes from the text, as the skimming and scanning stage has established its relevance and appropriateness. To explore various note-taking techniques, see the Note-taking page of this guide. As you are intensively reading you would also be evaluating the information and arguments that are being presented. You can employ critical reading strategies to do this.