Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

HC 317: Bacterial Symbiosis: Primary Sources

Primary Research Articles video by University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries.

Anatomy of an Article tutorial by Karla Moeller of Arizona State University.

Fish Bone Model diagram by Sultan Ayoub Meo of King Saud University.

Anatomy of Research Articles

Research articles in scientific journals present the original data and findings of the researchers involved in the experiment or study.

These articles usually include sections for Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion (IMRaD format) to match the scientific method.

The sections help with identifying a primary source and often contain standard pieces of information.

Dissection of Research Articles

It is important to understand which sections of a research article contain useful information to save time and effort.  The order in which to read the sections is determined by the project.  For example, a student researching a topic should start with the introduction while a scientist designing an experiment should start with the methods.

Title gives the primary keywords (often as technical jargon) describing the research and reflects the core contents of the article.  It appears as part of the article details.

Article details usually include these pieces of information:

  1. Title
  2. Authors
  3. Source
  4. DOI
  5. Document Type
  6. Hyperlinked Outline
  7. PDF Full-Text


  • DOI (or Digital Object Identifier) = unique alphanumeric string assigned by Crossref to identify content and provide persistent link to its location

UAB PREFIX =     [required for off campus access to restricted content]
DOI = 10.1371/journal.pntd.0007357


  • Open Access = scholarly literature freely available online (does not require a subscription or payment to view article)
  • Peer-Reviewed (or Refereed) = articles written by experts that are reviewed by other experts in the field for quality before publication (all peer-reviewed journals are scholarly but not all scholarly journals are peer-reviewed)

Abstract gives a brief overview of the article.

Abstracts usually include these pieces of information:

  1. Introduction = why they did it
  2. Methods = how they did it
  3. Results = what they found
  4. Conclusion = what it means


  • Unstructured abstract = written as a continuous paragraph (scientific literature)

  • Structured abstract = divided into sections modeled after the IMRaD format (medical literature)

  • Author summary = simplified version of the abstract written for non-scientists or scientists from other fields

Introduction (or background) gives background information about the topic and states the research question.

Introductions usually include these pieces of information:

  1. Context = what is known about it
  2. Need = what is not known about it
  3. Objective = what did they want to know
  4. Task = what was done about it

Introductions reveal the purpose of the research starting broadly then narrowing down to a specific question (inverted pyramid).

Source:  Regoniel, P. A. (2014, March 7). How to write a good
thesis introduction: From general to specific. Retrieved from

Methods (or materials and methods) gives the technical details about how the research was carried out and serves as a blueprint for replication.

Methods usually include these pieces of information:

  1. Location = where was it done
  2. Materials = how was it done
  3. Procedure = what was done

Results gives the outcomes of the research without interpretation of their meaning.

Results usually include the following information:

  1. Findings = what did they learn
  2. Data = how did they learn it

Discussion gives the interpretation of the results and implications of the research.  Since data may be interpreted in different ways, it is important to remember that the discussion is the opinions of the authors and not necessarily facts.

Discussions usually include these pieces of information:

  1. Answers = what are the results
  2. Interpretation = what do they mean
  3. Comparison = how do they compare
  4. Limitations = did design affect the data
  5. Next Steps = what to do in the future

Conclusion gives a summary of the research especially the major findings and their impact on science.  This section may appear as part of the discussion without a heading.

Conclusions usually include these pieces of information:

  1. Major Findings = what are the important results
  2. Significance = why do they matter
  3. Extensions = how can they be applied

References gives the sources cited in the article.  It may be used to find other references on the topic.

Bibliographic details usually include these pieces of information:

  1. Authors
  2. Title
  3. Source
  4. Date Published
  5. Identifiers

© UAB Libraries ι University of Alabama at Birmingham ι About Us ιContact Us ι Disclaimer