Reading in Writing Class

11 Analyzing the Genre of Your Readings

Emilie Zickel

You will be invited to read many different kinds of texts this semester. To conduct your research projects, you will draw on multiple sources, including scholarly journal articles. Some scholarly journal articles may be organized in ways that differ from the sources you’re accustomed to reading. However, the purpose, format, and style of scholarly/academic journal articles are rather patterned. Knowing the template that scholarly articles follow can enhance your reading and comprehension experience and make these reading materials much more accessible.

This common structure—or arrangement—applied to academic articles is often referred to in shorthand as IMRAD, which stands for Introduction, Methods, Research, and Discussion. These are both the headings and the rhetorical moves that most scholarly articles in the sciences and social sciences follow. Moreover, understanding the purpose of scholarly publication can help you to understand what matters most in these articles. Although there are certainly differences across disciplines and journals, the more you look for these particular rhetorical moves in scholarly articles, the more you’ll begin to recognize similar genre conventions in these articles. You’ll also start to note some of the differences between particular instances within the genre; these are known as deviations. Below we offer a genre analysis of sorts to help you identify some of the notable components of the IMRAD format.


Basic Format

Information in academic journal articles is often presented in a formal, highly prescribed format, meaning that scholarly articles tend to follow a similar layout, pattern, and style. The pages often look plain, with little decoration or imagery. Depending on the discipline, we see few photos in scholarly articles. This may differ in online publications, where the cost for images doesn’t apply the way it might in a print text. The article title is often fairly prominent on the first page, as are the authors’ names. Sometimes there is a bit of information the authors, such as the name of their current academic institution or academic credentials. At either the top or bottom of the first few pages, you can find the name of the scholarly journal in which the article is published.



On the first page of the article, you will often find an abstract, which is a summary of the author’s research question, methodologies and results. While this abstract is useful to you as a reader because it gives you some background about the article before you begin reading, you should not cite this abstract in your paper. Please read these abstracts as you are initially seeking sources so that you can determine whether or not reading the article will be useful to you, but do not quote or paraphrase from the abstract.


Literature Review

Scholarly sources often contain Literature Reviews in the beginning section of the article. They are generally several paragraphs or pages long. Some articles are only Literature Reviews. These Literature Reviews generally do not constitute an author’s own work. Instead, they are summaries and syntheses of other scholars’ work that has previously been published on the topic that the author is addressing in the paper. Including this review of previous research helps the author to communicate an understanding of the context or discourse community from which the author’s new research is derived.

Like the abstract, the Literature Review is another part of a scholarly article from which you should generally not quote. Often, students will mistakenly try to cite information that they find in this Literature Review section of scholarly articles. But that is sort of like citing a SparkNotes version of an essay that you have not read. The Literature Review is where the author describes previous research related to their own project. In this section, the author is outlining what others have said in their own articles, not offering new insight. And it is important to remember that what we are interested in when reading  scholarly articles is the new information or perspective that a researcher brings to the topic.

Helpful hint: If you find that there is interesting information from the sources that your author discusses in the Literature Review, then you should locate the article(s) that the author is summarizing and read them for yourself. That, in fact, is a great strategy for finding more sources.


The “Research Gap”

Somewhere near the end of the Literature Review, authors may indicate what has not been said or not been examined by previous scholars. This has been called a "research gap" —a space out of which a scholar’s own research develops. The “research gap” opens the opportunity for the author to assert their own research question or claim. Academic authors who want to publish in scholarly research journals need to define a research gap and then attempt to fill that gap; this is because scholarly journals want to publish new, innovative and interesting work that will push knowledge and scholarship in that field forward. In the research gap discussion, scholars must communicate the new ideas they have worked on: what their new hypothesis, experiment, interpretation, or analysis is.


Contributing New Perspectives

After mentioning the research gap, and sometimes for the bulk of an academic article, the author discusses their original work and analysis. This is the part of the scholarly article that you should cite from, as it indicates the work your authors have contributed. This is the section of the text where authors add to the conversation, where they try to fill in the research gap that they identified. This is also the part of the article where the primary research can be found. The authors may include a discussion of their research methodology and results, or an elaboration and defense of their reasoning, interpretation, or analysis. In this part of the article, scholarly texts in the sciences or social sciences may include headings such as “Methods,” “Results,” and “Discussion,” or synonyms of those words. In arts or humanities journal articles, these headings may not appear because scholars in the arts and humanities do not necessarily perform lab-based research in the same way as scientists or social scientists do. Authors may reference others’ research even in this section of original work and analysis, but usually only to support, contrast, or enhance the discussion of the scholar’s own findings.



To conclude a scholarly journal article, authors may reference their original research question or hypothesis once more. They may summarize some of the points made in the article. We often see scholars concluding by indicating how, why, or to whom their research matters. Sometimes, authors will conclude by looking forward, offering ideas for other scholars to engage in future research. Sometimes, they may reflect on why an experiment failed (if it did) and how to approach that experiment differently next time. What we do not tend to see is scholars merely summarizing everything they discussed in the essay, point by point. While there is some summarization of main body content, authors also want to leave readers with a sense of why the work that they have discussed in their article matters.


Works Cited

At the end of academic articles, you will find a list of Works Cited—also called a list of References, depending on the style employed by the author. This is generally quite long, and it details all of the work that the authors considered or cited in designing their own research project or in writing the article.

Helpful hint: reading the Works Cited in an article that you find to be particularly illuminating or useful can be a great way to locate other sources that may be helpful for your own research project. If you see a title that looks interesting, see if you can access it via our library.


As you read scholarly sources, remember to

  • look for the author’s research question or hypothesis;
  • seek out the “research gap”—the reason that the author had this research question or hypothesis;
  • identify the Literature Review;
  • identify the the point at which the author stops discussing previous research and begins to discuss his or her own;
  • and, most importantly, always try to understand what new information this article brings to the scholarly “conversation” about this topic.


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Analyzing the Genre of Your Readings Copyright © 2021 by Emilie Zickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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