Skip to Main Content

Research Process

What is Strategic Reading?

A large part of the research process is reading. This is a time –consuming process and requires strategic effort to read the required information in an efficient and time-effective manner. Read strategically can help identify significant points, find relationships across readings, and see how each reading relates to your research project. In the end, reading strategically will also make your writing process easier. Use this guide to learn:

  • how to read strategically and annotate readings,
  • how to identify and track relationships across readings, and
  • how these relationships relate to your own research project.

Identifying Parts of an Article

AbstractTells the reader what the topic is, the research questions the paper addresses, and will typically give a brief overview of the results or conclusions. The abstract is like watching the movie before the book, you get a quick glimpse, and if you want to know more, you can read the entire article. 

Introduction: Gives the reader important background information to ensure that the reader is situated before launching into theory, critical analysis, or arguments. This part of the paper will typically introduce research questions or (hypo)theses as well. Some writers will describe a rough outline of their paper or arguments so that their work is easier to follow.  

Lit Review: The literature review allows the writer to present various arguments, themes, and patterns that are prevalent and relevant to their topic. While a lit review can be a stand-alone assignment, it is most often seen as an integral part of a scholarly paper because it informs the researcher's argument.

Methods: In a more scientific paper that tests a hypothesis or theory, the method section of the paper allows the writer to explain to the reader how they will carry out their experiment. The field of study and if the data collected is quantitative or qualitative will significantly impact how the methods section is composed. For more information on best practices in your subject area, you can meet with your Liaison Librarian and model your methods section after articles from your field.    

Results: Like the methods section, how the results section looks (if there is one) depends on your field of study and the type of data that the researcher(s) collected. Both the methods and results section is cut and dry, so if you're looking for precise details about the study or experiment, you'll find that information in these two sections.

DiscussionOnce the researcher(s) stated their results, they can delve into the details and the broader implications their findings have for the field. Here, you will see the researcher(s) interpret their results instead of stating them. Here, you will likely see them relate the results to the papers that informed their research (the articles discussed in the lit review).  

Conclusion:  With the remainder of the paper, a few loose ends will need to be tied. The researchers will make sure that they have addressed and answered their research question. They will reiterate how their research/results answer their original question and whether their hypothesis was supported. Finally, they will identify any remaining unanswered questions and future research potential.

Reading Academic Articles

1. Read the abstract to get the main point and findings

2. Read the introduction to find out the author's (hypo)thesis and questions the paper is going to or is trying to answer and the methods they plan on using

3. Read the conclusion to get a better understanding of the paper's findings, and issues that the author thinks are unanswered 



Kift, J., Day, K., & Meyers, E. [UBCiSchool]. (2013, Jan 17) How to read an academic paper [Video file]. Retrieved from

Strategies for reading academic articles. (n.d.). Retrieved from


Creating Annotations + Taking Notes

Annotated bibliographies are a great way to keep track of all of your sources and their arguments. They are bibliographies (think, works cited/reference page) in which you summarize the purpose, argument, and overall effect a reference in your bibliography has.


These do not have to be too formal or too detailed if they are just for you. However, you want to make sure that you give yourself enough information to quickly remember the gist of your resource.  

  • Some things we may want to include in our annotations:
    1. research questions or hypothesis
    2. author's main argument
    3. author's findings
    4. our response or reaction to the author's arguments/conclusions  

How you take notes on the information you're gathering depends on how you best take in information. Some people will print out their resources so that they can highlight and mark up their readings. If you want to save yourself some money, you can use Mendeley, to take notes and highlight your sources as you read them on your computer. Some people will take notes digitally on a Google or Word Doc to keep their sources in order. The amount of detail you choose to use depends on you and your style. For example, you may be fine creating an annotated bibliography and highlighting specific areas in an article you want to quote. But, other people may like to use a working Google or Word Doc where you type out quotes they think are important and that they might use.

Next Steps

As you begin to feel more comfortable with the information you're taking in, start to get going on the next steps. At this stage, this primarily involves organizing your various notes and the articles you've read. For instance, it's a good idea to have the materials you plan on citing set aside from the rest of your bibliography.

Academic Text in Sciences & Social Science

With some variation among the different disciplines, most scholarly articles of original research follow the IMRD model, which consists of the following components:


  • Literature Review
  • Statement of Problem (i.e. "the Gap")
  • Plan to Solve the Problem

Method & Results

  • How Research was Done
  • Data
  • What Answers were Found


  • Interpretation of Results
    (What Does It Mean?)
  • Implications for the Field

This form is most obvious in scientific studies, where the methods are clearly defined and described, and data is often presented in tables or graphs for analysis.

In other fields, such as history, the method and results may be embedded in a narrative, perhaps describing and interpreting events from archival sources. In this case, the method is the selection of archival sources and how they were interpreted, while the results are the interpretation and resultant story.

In full-length books, you might see this general pattern followed over the entire book, within each chapter, or both.

Link to interactive tutorial, "Anatomy of a Scholarly Article," presented by the North Carolina State University Libraries

Active Reading Strategies

Source: (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Step 1: Be Consistent. Apply a consistent approach to note taking across all readings.

  • Use different colors to represent the text and your ideas.
  • Use colors sparingly, only mark the most significant parts.
  • Don’t change colors between readings or turn your reading into a rainbow.

Step 2: Create Some Signposts

  • Underline words being defined but [bracket] the full definition. 
  • If there’s a section not particularly important to your paper but key to understanding the reading, put it in <carrots>.
  • Underline the entirety of a potential quote, then write a brief description in the margin as a reminder.
  • If there’s something that is very important, put a | vertical line next to it. Write a brief description in the margin to remind future you.

Step 3: Use the Margins

  • Write out keywords describing portions of the text to help you quickly spot similarities and differences across multiple readings later.
  • Draw, diagram, or give yourself other visual cues to help describe what the text is saying.
  • Write your own ideas, questions, and reactions to the text. These may just spark a research topic!
  • If what you are reading reminds you of a previous reading/article, write it down now! This will make it easier to pull together and synthesize related discussions later on.
  • Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Reading Peer Reviewed Articles

The first thing you need to realize is that you will not understand every single thing on the page, and that's OK! These are not something you want to try to read the same way you would read a novel, and are not meant to be fully understood by the average undergraduate. Here are some things you can do to make the task more manageable:

1. Read the abstract. 

Remember that it is a summary, and this is going to give you an idea of what you can look for when you go through the article itself. 

2. Read what you understand, and skim what you don't. 

Most research articles have the same clearly outlined sections: Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. While they may be called different things, the results section is going to be the least accessible and is explained in the discussion. The literature review can be a visual distraction with all the references, but you will eventually mentally ignore the references as you read more scholarly literature.

3. Keep your own research in mind.

It is easy to forget what you are researching and get pulled in multiple directions. Make sure you ar reading it from the perspective of how this informs your own research rather than focusing on their research.