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Scholarly Journal Articles: Structure and Function


The article title provides a succinct description of the content of the article. Each word is carefully chosen to convey the most information in the smallest package possible, with the goal of attaining maximum "findability" in journal literature databases and internet search engines. By carefully reading the full title of an article, you can tease out valuable clues as to its content.

For example, you can get a good idea of the content of the Villamil-Gomez, et al., article entitled "Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya Co-infection in a Pregnant Woman from Columbia" before you've read a single word of the text. The title tells you what diseases are under study (zika, dengue, and chikungunya), and suggests the article is probably a case report of one patient in Columbia.

  • Given the title, what do you think was so unusual about this case that it warranted being written up and submitted for publication?

Likewise, the title of the Granath article entitled "Recurrent Acute Otitis Media: What Are the Options for Treatment and Prevention?" suggests that it is a review article that will provide a summary of the current treatment options for recurrent acute otitis media.

  • Considering the journal in which it is published, for what group of people do you think this article was written?

Finally, it is clear from the Warren, et al., article entitled "Long-term Outcome of Patients with Liver Cirrhosis Admitted to a General Intensive Care Unit" that it is an epidemiological study, quite likely a prospective cohort study. The article is apt to be fairly lengthy, with abundant charts and statistics, and may prove to be of great interest to hospital administrators.

Abstract and Keywords

The abstract provides a concise description of the objective of the study, the methods used, the primary findings, and the chief conclusions. The purpose of the abstract is to summarize the article in sufficient detail so that the reader can decide whether to read the entire article. The article itself must be read to determine the soundness of the methodology and the validity of the conclusions.

The abstract precedes the body of the paper. Because of length restrictions, each word of the abstract is chosen with utmost care. The abstract is often provided, wholly or in part, with the citation in online databases such as MEDLINE and CINAHL. Not all articles have abstracts, including news items, editorials, letters-to-the-editor, and many review articles.

Many journals require "structured abstracts", which are written in a standardized format, often patterned after the IMRAD format. This further aids the reader in rapidly finding the critical elements.

The sample article by Villamil-Gomez, et al., provides an example of a very brief abstract, consisting of only three sentences, written in paragraph form.

In contrast, the sample article by Warren, et al., provides an excellent example of a structured abstract.

  • What are the seven sections of this structured abstract?

Some journals ask the authors to provide keywords to describe their article. These are generally listed directly after the abstract at the beginning of the article. The keywords may be drawn from the MEDLINE or CINAHL subject heading lists (thesauri), or they may be commonly used terms chosen by the author.

  • For the sample article by Warren, et al., what five keywords are listed?