A research paper is a primary source...that is, it reports the methods and results of an original study performed by the authors. The kind of study may vary (it could have been an experiment, survey, interview, etc.), but in all cases, raw data have been collected and analyzed by the authors, and conclusions drawn from the results of that analysis.
Research papers follow a particular format. Look for:
- A brief introduction will often include a review of the existing literature on the topic studied, and explain the rationale of the author's study. This is important because it demonstrates that the authors are aware of existing studies, and are planning to contribute to this existing body of research in a meaningful way (that is, they're not just doing what others have already done).
- A methods section, where authors describe how they collected and analyzed data. Statistical analyses are included. This section is quite detailed, as it's important that other researchers be able to verify and/or replicate these methods.
- A results section describes the outcomes of the data analysis. Charts and graphs illustrating the results are typically included.
- In the discussion, authors will explain their interpretation of their results and theorize on their importance to existing and future research.
- References or works cited are always included. These are the articles and books that the authors drew upon to plan their study and to support their discussion.
You can use the library's article databases to search for research articles:
- A research article will nearly always be published in a peer-reviewed journal; click here for instructions on limiting your searches to peer-reviewed articles.
- If you have a particular type of study in mind, you can include keywords to describe it in your search. For instance, if you would like to see studies that used surveys to collect data, you can add "survey" to your topic in the database's search box. See this example search in our EBSCO databases: "bullying and survey".
- Several of our databases have special limiting options that allow you to select specific methodologies. See, for instance, the "Methodology" box in ProQuest's PsycARTICLES Advanced Search (scroll down a bit to see it). It includes options like "Empirical Study" and "Qualitative Study", among many others.
A review article is a secondary source...it is written about other articles, and does not report original research of its own. Review articles are very important, as they draw upon the articles that they review to suggest new research directions, to strengthen support for existing theories and/or identify patterns among exising research studies. For student researchers, review articles provide a great overview of the exisiting literature on a topic. If you find a literature review that fits your topic, take a look at its references/works cited list for leads on other relevant articles and books!
You can use the library's article databases to find literature reviews as well! Click here for tips.
What is a Critical Review of a Journal Article?
A critical review of a journal article evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of an article's ideas and content. It provides description, analysis and interpretation that allow readers to assess the article's value.
Before You Read the Article
- What does the title lead you to expect about the article?
- Study any sub-headings to understand how the author organized the content.
- Read the abstract for a summary of the author's arguments.
- Study the list of references to determine what research contributed to the author's arguments. Are the references recent? Do they represent important work in the field?
- If possible, read about the author to learn what authority he or she has to write about the subject.
- Consult Web of Science to see if other writers have cited the author's work. (Please see 'How to use E-Indexes'.) Has the author made an important contribution to the field of study?
Reading the Article: Points to Consider
Read the article carefully. Record your impressions and note sections suitable for quoting.
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the author's purpose? To survey and summarize research on a topic? To present an argument that builds on past research? To refute another writer's argument?
- Does the author define important terms?
- Is the information in the article fact or opinion? (Facts can be verified, while opinions arise from interpretations of facts.) Does the information seem well-researched or is it unsupported?
- What are the author's central arguments or conclusions? Are they clearly stated? Are they supported by evidence and analysis?
- If the article reports on an experiment or study, does the author clearly outline methodology and the expected result?
- Is the article lacking information or argumentation that you expected to find?
- Is the article organized logically and easy to follow?
- Does the writer's style suit the intended audience? Is the style stilted or unnecessarily complicated?
- Is the author's language objective or charged with emotion and bias?
- If illustrations or charts are used, are they effective in presenting information?
Prepare an Outline
Read over your notes. Choose a statement that expresses the central purpose or thesis of your review. When thinking of a thesis, consider the author's intentions and whether or not you think those intentions were successfully realized. Eliminate all notes that do not relate to your thesis. Organize your remaining points into separate groups such as points about structure, style, or argument. Devise a logical sequence for presenting these ideas. Remember that all of your ideas must support your central thesis.
Write the First Draft
The review should begin with a complete citation of the article. For example:
Platt, Kevin M.F. "History and Despotism, or: Hayden White vs. Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great." Rethinking History 3:3 (1999) : 247-269.
NOTE: Use the same bibliographic citation format as you would for any bibliography, works cited or reference list. It will follow a standard documentation style such as MLA or APA.
Be sure to ask your instructor which citation style to use. For frequently used style guides consult Queen's University Library's Citing Sources guide.
The first paragraph may contain:
- a statement of your thesis
- the author's purpose in writing the article
- comments on how the article relates to other work on the same subject
- information about the author's reputation or authority in the field
The body of the review should:
- state your arguments in support of your thesis
- follow the logical development of ideas that you mapped out in your outline
- include quotations from the article which illustrate your main ideas
The concluding paragraph may:
- summarize your review
- restate your thesis
Revise the First Draft
Ideally, you should leave your first draft for a day or two before revising. This allows you to gain a more objective perspective on your ideas. Check for the following when revising:
- grammar and punctuation errors
- organization, logical development and solid support of your thesis
- errors in quotations or in references
You may make major revisions in the organization or content of your review during the revision process. Revising can even lead to a radical change in your central thesis.
NOTE: Prepared by University of Toronto Mississauga Library, Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre.