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History 100 (Malloy): Reading Scholarly Articles

The Historian's Craft

Reading Strategies for Scholarly Articles in the Arts & Humanities

1. Read the Abstract first. The abstract previews the entire article, making it easier to judge whether it is relevant.

Articles in the Arts and Humanities do not always include an Abstract, and if they do, it might just be the first paragraph of the introduction. If not included, move onto the Introduction. Make sure to skim through the section headings, if they are there. This will give you an idea of the organization of the article as well as a general idea of themes.

2. Next, read the introduction and conclusion. These sections will help you learn more about the topic of study and what the authors found out in the process.

These two sections give you the background information you need for the topic of the article as well as what happened in the study. The introduction also includes info about previous studies/papers that relate to the current one, which gives you, the reader, a context. By reading the conclusion, you can see whether the study answered the original research question and what the authors see as the next steps in the scholarship.

3. Take a look at the tables, charts and graphs. These can help you get a better idea of the results of the research or analytical study. 

Articles in the Arts and Humanities generally don't include numeric data that the authors present in their results. However, there might be other visual representations of what the scholars are studying. For example, reproductions of art pieces, or excerpts from primary sources or literary pieces.These are worth looking at to see the materials being studied.

4. Now actually read the entire article.

Okay, now that you have pre-read some of the article and are sure it relates to your research topic, read the whole thing. It still might not be easy, but it will not be as hard as if you were reading it with no context.

Some more tips about reading:

  • Take notes
  • Summarize sections or paragraphs
  • Keep a subject dictionary, your textbook glossary or the Internet/Wikipedia close by. If you come across any unfamiliar terms, you can quickly look them up.  
  • Keep track of the citation information of the articles you do read and want to use in your paper or assignment. This will make life a lot easier at the end of the project. 

Scholarly Articles in the Arts & Humanities

Within the Arts and Humanities, scholarly articles are set up differently than in the Sciences. Articles will read more like essays, rather than scientific experiments. As a result, there is no standard format or sections to look for as in the Sciences. Although an article written in an essay style may seem more approachable to read, the rule still applies that the authors are writing for other experts in their fields, so they might still be very difficult to read because of terminology and jargon from the discipline.

In the Humanities, scholars are not conducting research experiments on participants but rather are making logical arguments based on the evidence they have, which often comes from texts. In literature, for example, a scholar will be studying a particular novel of an author. In history, a scholar will look at the primary source documents from the time period she is studying.

The following sections are generally included in humanities scholarly articles, although not always and might not be clearly marked. In fact, each article you read on a topic will have different section headings, if any, decided upon by the authors and editors.

Abstract This brief summary is sometimes included, sometimes not. 
Introduction Usually pretty long and gives a lot of background information for topic being studied. Thesis "statement" will be found within introduction, although it is not limited to one sentence. Literature Review might also be included here.
Discussion/Conclusion The discussion likely runs through the entire article and does not have a separate section. The conclusion might not be as neatly wrapped up in a humanities articles as in the sciences. Things might be a little unclear. 
Works Cited List of resources used by the author(s).