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EMPR 370: Human Resource Analytics

Evaluating Scholarly Articles: A Cheat Sheet


You have decided on a research question and have started to run searches in the article indexes but how do you decide which articles are worth your time and energy? After all, they can be a challenge to read. There are real advantages to learning how to efficiently scan a scholarly research article to assess quality and relevance.  Review the following 'cheat sheet' that will help you assess whether the article merits your full attention; you are not expected to use every tip listed, but it will almost become part of your muscle memory to identify the cues.

The First Page

The first page of a scholarly article contains a number of valuable morsels of information that potentially give merit to the content:

  • The journal title will often be familiar as one of the mainstream in the field. If the journal name is very obscure, learn more by determining the journal's citation factor on Journal Citation Reports, and determining whether it is peer reviewed.
  • Additional citation information on the first page includes the page range. A reputable scholarly article is not 3-5 pages in length but is much more substantial.
  • The article title should sound 'academic' and directly relate to the article's abstract, introduction and conclusion.
  • The authors will be clearly stated along with their institutional affiliation and credentials to provide authority. Contact information for the authors should also be provided. Consider whether the authors are affiliated with universities, politically-motivated think tanks, or associations. Use the information to appraise whether their affiliations have an effect (bias) on the research.

The Abstract

The following are characteristics of a good abstract:

  • The abstract should always say what the problem is/was and the setting, an outline of the work, and a summary of the conclusions.
  • Some abstracts have a very small word limit (usually under 250 words), but all of this information should still be present.
  • If the abstract does not address your research question, move on!

The Introduction

  • The introduction is a justification for why the study was conducted.
  • By the end of the introduction you should have a very good idea of what the researchers are going to study (their thesis and hypothesis), and be convinced that the study is necessary to advance the field.
  • The justification should be a combination of improving on previous research and good theoretical reasons and practical reasons for why the study is important and relevant.
  • A literature review section might be included in the introduction or it could be it's own section.


  • Not every article will contain a methods section, particularly in the humanities. However, if there is a methods section it should be clearly identified whether the research is qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. There should be enough detail provided about the study design to be able to recreate it.


  • A good article will summarize the results of the research in the conclusion, and state whether they were consistent with the expected findings.
  • The conclusion should address how the findings fit within existing literature and speculate on future directions of the research.
  • The broader theoretical and practical implications of the findings should be discussed.


  • Does the reference list include all of the references cited within the text of the article?
  • The reference list for a scholarly article should be significant in length, not just citing the same work -- or work of the study researchers themselves -- extensively.
  • The references should be relevant.
  • Referenced works should be largely current, depending on the research area.
  • Browsing the references should prompt 'citation chasing,' or tracking down the cited works because they are also relevant to your research.