What is a Research Article?

A research article is a journal article in which researchers present the results of an original research project, experiment or study. Usually this type of article is written by more than one person, since it typically requires a team to design, carry out, and analyze the data from such a research project. This type of article is then published in a journal devoted to the particular field in which the research was performed.

Finding Research Articles

A good way to begin is by searching general databases that contain periodicals from many different fields. The general databases most widely used here at Grace Library are Academic Search Premier and OmniFile Full Text Select-H.W. Wilson, and are available through the Grace Library's homepage by clicking on Find Articles. Both of these databases contain professional journals from many academic disciplines, as well as a wide range of popular magazines. If you need only a small number of research articles, try these databases first.

After typing in your search terms, but before you actually run your search in either Academic Search Premier or OmniFile Full Text Select-H.W. Wilson, be sure to limit your search to peer reviewed (“professional”) journals only. Limiting your search to professional journals will not only give you research articles in your search result, 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 two databases listed above you can also find citations for research articles in one of the many subject specific databases listed on the Find Articles page on the library’s web site. These databases cover only the professional journals of a given academic discipline.

The above periodical databases sometimes only supply citations and abstracts and not the full text of an article. In those cases you should use the Find Journal Titles link on the library's homepage and search for the journal title to see if Grace Library owns it in print. If you are still unable to find the journal title or the library's missing an issue, try using the Rapid ILL Interlibrary Loan online form to request articles.

Recognizing Research Articles

Even after doing a successful search in an appropriate database you will still have to determine which of the articles research articles are 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 it. 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. The introduction does not 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: Summarize 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 but synonymous words 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.