Scientific information in journal articles is normally divided into the following sections: Title, Authors, Abstract, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion and References.
Most journals are peer reviewed. That means that they are sent out to at least two other researchers in the field who are well informed on the topic. The researchers carefully read the manuscript to determine if Materials and Methods are well explained and conclusions of data are reasonable. They may ask the author for further information or to perform additional experiments before the article is accepted for publication.
How to read journal articles
Normally the title, authors and abstract are read first. Then the introduction, results and discussion are read. Finally the methods are read by those who intend to repeat the work or who are unfamiliar with the procedures used. If the title and abstract pique your interest, you will read the introduction to get enough background to understand the rationale for the experiment. You would then skip to the results. This section describes what the author(s) have done. The text should accurately describe the data in the figures and tables. You need to read the results to decide if the data support all statements. In the discussion, the authors will try to convince you of the significance of their data, but you must weigh their evidence and decide whether you agree.
What you find in each section of a journal article
Title: The title of the paper is brief but clearly and sufficiently reflects its contents. The title may state the subject of the article or it may give the article's major conclusion. The title is important, for it is the first thing the reader sees, and it helps the reader decide if the article is something they wish to read. Also literature databases use key words from titles to list papers, so a good title will help readers find articles relevant to their interests.
Authors are not a section of a paper but over time authors doing important work are recognized. Literature databases can be searched by author to locate all articles written by a particular author. Normally the individual who did the majority of the work is listed first, and the last author is the principal investigator of the laboratory. The principal investigator is the person in charge of procuring funds and directing the laboratory.
Abstract: The abstract should represent a greatly condensed version of the entire paper. It must allow the reader to understand the essence of the authors' research without having to refer to the article. It presents the rationale for the study, reports key results, and points out their significance. Specific details of data are given, but methodology is not described in detail unless it is unique. An abstract should be brief (less than 250 words). The abstract allows the reader to decide if they wish to read the entire paper. Literature databases often supply abstracts online.
Introduction: The introduction includes a brief summary of the relevant published literature describing previous research conducted on the problem. The background material, even though it may seem self evident, is referenced. It explains the rationale and justification for the research and usually ends with a statement of the hypothesis that the research was designed to test.
Materials and Methods: The materials and methods section is written in enough detail to allow another investigator to duplicate the experiments; however, it is written as text and not in the form of directions. New methods are described completely and sources of unique chemicals and equipment are stated. Standard methodologies (e.g., Gram stain, plate count) are not explained. Methods completely described in previous papers are cited.
Results: Results are presented in a sequence that logically supports or rejects the hypothesis. Illustrations and tables that accurately reflect the data are included in results, but they are still referred to in the text. Illustrations and tables are accompanied by a title and an informative legend. Extensive interpretation of data is not given in this section.
Discussion: The discussion interprets the meaning of the results and draws conclusions from the data. The authors should show how their observations relate to each other to form a cohesive story. It should address any discrepancies between these results and other papers. The potential implications of the work should be stated.
References: References cited in the text are listed in a style dictated by the journal.
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