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Reading research articles: An assignment

sue_frantz
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At some point in college or grad school, I was given a short article that explained the different sections of a typical psychology journal article. I have a vague memory of being told to always read the abstract first, but beyond that, I don’t remember be given any guidance on how to actually read the article. Eventually I figured out that journal articles that are sharing new research are not meant to be read from beginning to end. True confession: I started doing this pretty early in my journal-article-reading career, but I felt guilty about it. I had no reason to feel guilty. Wish I would have known that then.

The Learning Scientists blog has a nice collection of articles on how to read a research journal article. Take a look at that list to see if there is anything there you want to share with your students that particularly meets your goals. For example, the library at Teesside University has brief descriptions of each article section. If you’d like your students to hear from academics themselves on how they approach research journal articles, the Science article is a good choice.

Alternatively, you may choose to give your students a few easy-to-read articles and ask your students to sort out the different elements of a research article. Ask your students to look at (not necessarily “read”), say, three of the following articles, all of which have 12 or fewer pages of text. Work with your librarians to get permalinks to this articles from your library’s databases.

Barry, C. T., McDougall, K. H., Anderson, A. C., Perkins, M. D., Lee-Rowland, L. M., Bender, I., & Charles, N. E. (2019). ‘Check your selfie before you wreck your selfie’: Personality ratings of Instagram users as a function of self-image posts. Journal of Research in Personality, 82, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2019.07.001

Gosnell, C. L. (2019). Receiving quality positive event support from peers may enhance student connection and the learning environment. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000178

Howe, L. C., Goyer, J. P., & Crum, A. J. (2017). Harnessing the placebo effect: Exploring the influence of physician characteristics on placebo response. Health Psychology, 36(11), 1074–1082. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000499.supp

Hyman, I. E., Boss, S. M., Wise, B. M., McKenzie, K. E., & Caggiano, J. M. (2010). Did you see the unicycling clown? Inattentional blindness while walking and talking on a cell phone. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 597–607. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1638

Reed, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2017). Learning on hold: Cell phones sidetrack parent-child interactions. Developmental Psychology, 53(8), 1428–1436. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000292

Rhodes, M., Leslie, S. J., Yee, K. M., & Saunders, K. (2019). Subtle linguistic cues increase girls’ engagement in science. Psychological Science, 30(3), 455–466. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618823670

Soicher, R. N., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2017). Do exam wrappers increase metacognition and performance? A single course intervention. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 16(1), 64–73. https://doi.org/10.1177/1475725716661872

Wirth, J. H., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2009). The role of gender in mental-illness stigma: A national experiment. Psychological Science, 20(2), 169–173. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02282.x

Give your students the following instructions and questions. Amend them to your liking.

Skim each of these three articles:

Barry, C. T., McDougall, K. H., Anderson, A. C., Perkins, M. D., Lee-Rowland, L. M., Bender, I., & Charles, N. E. (2019). ‘Check your selfie before you wreck your selfie’: Personality ratings of Instagram users as a function of self-image posts. Journal of Research in Personality, 82, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2019.07.001

Gosnell, C. L. (2019). Receiving quality positive event support from peers may enhance student connection and the learning environment. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000178

Howe, L. C., Goyer, J. P., & Crum, A. J. (2017). Harnessing the placebo effect: Exploring the influence of physician characteristics on placebo response. Health Psychology, 36(11), 1074–1082. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000499.supp

Research articles published in journals follow some basic conventions that are designed to make them easy for researchers and students to read. Almost all research articles have these six main components, and always in this order. Using the three articles you skimmed, your goal is to identify the basic structure of research articles.

For each component, answer the questions given.

Abstract

In less than 50 words, describe the purpose of the abstract.

Introduction (usually not labeled, but it always comes after the abstract)

In less than 50 words, describe the purpose of the introduction.

The research hypotheses can almost always be found near the end of the introduction. Identify at least one hypothesis from each article.

Method

In less than 50 words, describe the purpose of the methods section.

In the methods section, you will see that all of the articles contain similar information. Identify three different types of information that is common across all three articles.

Results

In less than 50 words, describe the purpose of the results section.

If you don’t understand much of what is written in this section, that’s okay. This section is written for fellow researchers, not Intro Psych students. Copy/paste (use quotation marks!) one sentence from the results section of each article that made little or no sense to you.

Discussion

In less than 50 words, describe the purpose of the discussion section.

References

In less than 50 words, describe the purpose of the references section.

Choose one reference from each article that, based on the title alone, you might be interested in reading. How would you go about getting that article?

Researchers almost always read the abstract first. After that, what they read next depends on why they are looking at the article at all. For each of the following scenarios, match the researcher with the section of the article they are likely to read first after the abstract: Introduction, method, results, discussion, references.

A. Dr. Akiya Yagi wanted to read more about the conclusions the researchers drew from having done this study.

B. Dr. Selva Hernandez-Lopez is doing research on these same psychological concepts, and she’s looking for useful research articles that she may have missed.

C. Dr. DeAndre Thomas is looking for different ways to measure a particular psychological concept.

D. Dr. Kaitlyn Kronvalds read some information in the abstract that made her wonder about the statistics that were used to analyze the data.

E. Dr. Bahiya Cham is about start doing research on a different set of psychological concepts and wants to learn more about the different theories behind those concepts and how those theories are being used to generate hypotheses.

 

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.