Answered By: Emily Scharf
Last Updated: May 19, 2015     Views: 66

First, you should recognize that most academic journal articles is some form of research study.  Also, if you think of academic journals as a kind of party conversation, it will help to understand the structure. 

1.  The article will usually open with a context/problem/issue in the field
2.  The first major section is generally a literature review covering the major articles and findings in the field to date.  Going back to our party model--you are late arriver reading this article, so this section is like eavesdropping on the ongoing conversation clusters.  It is also a great starting point for your research project as it compiles several authors that you can also look for in one place.
3.  Following the literature review, the authors will usually present a their focus, planned study, etc.  Sometimes this is a short intro to the study section; other times it will be detailed with multiple hypotheses.
4.  The study--prepare for lots of statistics and dry data--the authors will present lots of details about sampling selections, study protocols, etc.  These details are important because the research needs to be replicable, and other researchers need to understand the scope and process of the research.  This section can be hard reading, but can also be a research source for analysis.  You can look at the sample size, representation, etc to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the study.
5.  After all the data, the authors will discuss their findings, especially in terms of what the finding mean for them and their particular study.
6.  Since this is a conversation, no one wants to be a know-it-all, so most authors end with a discussion of the limitations of their study and ideas for carrying the research forward.

Having this framework in place can help you make sense of at least the gist of most academic journals.