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What is the Best Way to Read a Psychology Journal Article?

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Reading journal articles can be a complicated and tricky business, especially if a student or researcher is unfamiliar with them. Journal articles often contain career and discipline-specific terminology, along with complicated metrics and references to trailblazers and significant theories or laws contained and built upon within a profession.

In this way, psychology journal articles do not differ from those in other social sciences, but psychology journals hold their own specific complications. Learning to read psychology journal articles is an integral part of studying psychology because, like most sciences, background and theory form the basis for practice theory and future breakthroughs in patient treatment. This sample help guide teaches students the best way to read difficult psychology journals.

Why should students read psychology journals?

The reasons one might read a psychology journal article are generally associated with education, whether it is for a two- or four-year degree, an advanced degree, or for a practicing psychologist’s edification or information on a certain subject. In addition, one might read a psychology journal article for information on a disorder, whether it is for personal use or in an attempt to help a friend or relative with their disorder or suspected disorder.

While obtaining a degree for a psychology profession, professors may ask students to read psychology journal articles as part of a literature review for a longer research paper on a topic, a critique necessary to prove understanding of a complicated subject, or simply for your education and course discussion (Cherry). Although the reasons for reading these articles may vary, the purpose is to understand the content thoroughly and be able to summarize that content in your own words. This guarantees a thorough understanding of the material at hand.

Types of psychology papers

Students, psychology professionals, and research psychologists are the most likely candidates for reading psychology journals, and some people who are associated with or interested in the topic might study them, as well (Olson & Meyersburg 2). The two types of papers a psychology student will write during studies are empirical papers (based on predicted data), or a summary of other student or professional research called a literature review (2008). It is important to know the different between the two for psychology students, and for those reading published psychology journal articles.

Structure of a psychology journal

Most psychology journal articles are structured in a certain way, certainly all published articles. There may be some variance between culture and countries in the way the information is presented, but all of the following information must be contained within the body of the article in order to be accepted by established print and online psychology journals. The purpose of a psychology journal article is to educate professionals about ground-breaking findings, such as mental illness and new treatment strategies, by informing:

“the reader about a new idea, theory, or experiment" according to the Harvard College Writing Program (Olson & Meyersburg 2).

Each psychology journal website should contain a section on the type and organization of articles necessary for publication in that journal. For instance, on the American Psychological Association website (which is affiliated with at least three scholarly psychology journals), the section entitled “Preparing Manuscripts for Publication in Psychology Journals: A Guide for New Authors” under the Journal of Family Psychology describes all the necessary information required for journal article submission, and may be an additional place for understanding the structure and purpose of each section of an article for novices (2015). In general, the following sections are necessary for a psychology journal article and must be included in submissions and genuine scholarly articles. Below are more detailed descriptions of each section.

Abstract

An abstract is a very quick summary (generally less than or equal to 150 words) of the contents, purpose, and undertakings in a psychological study (University of Illinois at Chicago). The abstract theory is generally the last thing an author writes, as it sums up the basic gist of the entire study or article in one fell swoop. The abstract is also the first portion that a person researching or browsing will see an article (and the only part, if he or she does not have additional access credentials or browsing permission in an academic, medical, or scholarly journal article database). Some examples of scholarly databases include:

  • Ebscohost
  • MEDLINE/Pub.med.gov
  • PsycINFO
  • The National Center for Biotechnology Information
  • The U.S. National Library of Medicine

In addition, websites such as Google Scholar crawl the web in search of articles on a specific topic from any database. The abstract will appear on its own page prior to the introduction and body of the paper, but generally after or on the title page of the article. In a database, the abstract will appear as soon as a journal article is searched for, and should be written in a “comprehensible” manner that the reader can understand without reading the entire paper (Olson & Meyersburg 2).

Introduction

The introduction to a psychology journal article:

“introduces the problem and review previous research and literature on the specified" (Cherry).

The purpose of the introduction is to summarize in more detail the question being asked through research for the article, the type of research and experiments, which follow strict experimental methods, or information-gathering used during that research, and the theory, previous research, or other journal articles that were used in order to answer the research question. The background of research question being asked will be summarized here in a general guide to how the question was thought of or conceived through extant literature and previous research on the subject.

At times this portion of the article may contain a reference to a particular psychology case or a personal incident or occurrence that the researcher based the research question on. The introduction will tell the reader why the research question is important in the field, and present the hypothesis to be tested in the study (Olson & Meyersburg 2).

Methods or Methodology Section

The methods or methodology of a psychology journal article details minutely the processes undertaken and theory applied in order for the research question or hypothesis to be answered or disproved as completely as possible. Study participants, the location of the study, participant screening, materials or questions used in the study, the type of study undertaken, and the procedures required to garner information from study participants is all listed and included in this portion of the psychology journal article. 

The most important part of this section is to “include enough details so that another person could replicate” the study exactly without consulting its author. A good research study will be very detailed due to this, and a poor research study may have faulty processes or detail which will not allow easy replication. A background in psychology may be required in order to completely interpret this section of the psychology journal article but is not tantamount in understanding the article, in most cases. The types of experiments, questionnaires, or surveys will be noted in this section, and depending on the type, the types of measurements taken to in order to answer the research question.

Additional Reading:How to Conduct Primary Research

Results Section

The results section is really the meat of a psychology journal article, and in reading, the methodology section may be skimmed until the results section has been read thoroughly. The results section includes information about the results of the experiments, surveys, or questionnaires, and what can be concluded from those results. It is here that the data gathered is analyzed, separated into different groups, and even eradicated if it serves no purpose in answering the research question (Olson & Meyersburg 2). The main question to ask is what did the study process find out about the research question, and what did the researcher expect to find? Are the two in line with one another, or were the results radically or slightly different from what the researcher expected?

The manner in which the data was analyzed (through software programs, scientific or mathematical formulas, or in relation to previously established and accepted psychology theories) will also be located in this section of the article. In order to fully comprehend these results, referring back to the methodology section and the introduction of the paper might be necessary. This section of the psychology article is likely to include graphs, charts, or tables of detailed information on the participants individual and group findings. While these graphics are meant to simplify the information, often it may be easier for a student to simply read the text of the results section and then refer to the graphics as needed for further understanding of the results of the study.

Statistics are also included in this section of the paper, and this is where the true and lasting results of the study will appear, so understanding of this section is critical to the overall correct interpretation of the article itself. In some cases the results of a study can be inconclusive, disprove the research question or theory, or even disprove a past, accepted psychological theory (such as the causes of violent acts and criminal behavior) on the subject; another reason to read this section carefully and take notes.

Discussion Section

recurring stressor many graduate students face during their dissertation writing is the discussion. This section of a psychology journal article is where the findings of the study are discussed in detail, including the results of the study, their relation or diversion from the research question or the expected outcomes of the study, their implications in the psychology field or in other academic or professional fields of study, and their application for future studies and research that might be conducted on the subject (Cherry). Olson and Meyersburg stated:

“In the discussion section, your main job is to synthesize the results and offer your conclusions” (2).

For instance, what is the meaning of the results in relation to the original research and research and theory the author used in the introduction? It is of utmost importance that the two are related in a comprehensive and applicable psychology journal article and study. Here the author will explain discrepancies between the expected outcome of the research or study and the actual outcome. A detailed discussion of the ways in which the data supports psychological theories and the “real world implications” of that data should be included in this portion (3).

Also expect to find questions that this data and study raises in light of the topic at hand. This portion of the paper should “close the loop” by returning to the information and ideas presented in the introductory section of the paper 2). Referring back to the introduction can help the reader further interpret the results of the study and draw conclusions about their validity or invalidity.

References

The references and sources used in a psychology journal article should be in line with the American Psychological Association’s regulations, and should not include websites such as Wikipedia or other such unsubstantiated information. Blogs, non-scholarly commentaries and other unreliable opinion pieces should not be part of the references section of a proper psychology journal article. The resources should be checked by the publishing journal, and so should be acceptable to the student or researcher, but a quick initial check of the references before basing papers, arguments, or other research on the article should be undertaken.

According to Olson and Meyersburg recommend most:

“Sources for psychology papers will be empirical reports found in journals” although literature reviews, book chapters, or the books themselves may be used, as well (3).

Overuse of secondary sources (books) with no original primary sources (empirical studies) is not considered good scholarship; depending on the exploration of the subject of the journal article, this may be a reason to disregard the study itself, or seek a more accurate and professional article in its place (3). Peer-reviewed journal articles are articles which require review by experts in the psychological field prior to publishing; these are excellent articles to seek out for the psychology researcher or student (3). The references section is the last page or section of the article and should begin on the page directly after the discussion section. Most psychology journal sources are formatted in APA format, and the APA formatting and style guide at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) is the best resource for determining the correctness of references in a psychology journal article (Purdue University Online Writing Lab).

Reading and understanding psychology journals

In order to guarantee a good understanding of the information presented in a psychology journal article, it is recommended that a brief skimming of the article is first undertaken (Jordan & Zanna). Cherry stated that a person should:

“Never start by doing an in-depth reading” before skimming each section; this will inform the person on the topic, which may not be relevant to the research.

Second, the researcher should take notes on each section as it is carefully read, with notation of important points and terminology or concepts that need to be studied further (Cherry). Once the initial reading is complete, look up definitions that were not clear or understood using an online dictionary other resources (Cherry). Third, identify the key information with a quick outline of the paper, including topics such as the main hypothesis, importance of the research, appropriateness of measurements and procedures, study variable, key findings of the research, and whether or not the findings are in line with the author’s or authors’ conclusions (Cherry). Kossowska recommends using the five C’s:

  1. Category
  2. Context
  3. Correctness
  4. Contributions
  5. Clarity

Finally, review the references again for accuracy and relevance to the topic of the paper. This section may also provide a launching point for additional research on the topic of the paper (Cherry). An overall understanding of the psychology journal article structure, included information, and correct study habits in interpreting the information is the best way to read and comprehend the article; practice makes perfect.

Works Cited

Cherry, Kendra. “How to Read (and Understand) a Psychology Journal Article.” About education, 2015. Web. 20 August 2015.

“Preparing Manuscripts for Publication in Psychology Journals: A Guide for New Authors.” APA, 2015. Web. 20 August 2015

Olson, Kristina, C.A. Meyersburg. “Writing Center Brief Guide Series: A Brief Guide to Writing the Psychology Paper.” Harvard College Writing Center, 2008. Web. 20 August 2015.

“General Format.” Purdue University Online Writing Lab, 2015. Web. 20 August 2015.

Jordan, Christian H., Mark P. Zanna. “How to Read a Journal Article in Social Psychology.” University of Waterloo, n.d. Web. 20 August 2015.

“How to Read a Journal Article.” University of Illinois at Chicago, 2011. Web. 20 August 2015.

Kossowska, Magdalena. “How to Read and Get the Most out of a Journal Article.” JEPS Bulletin, 2013. Web. 20 August 2015.

“APA and Affiliated Journals.” APA, 2015. Web. 20 August 2015.

 
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