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Human Services: Children, Families, and Groups APA Lit Review

Learn to conduct research, format writing, and cite sources for Human Services.

Getting Ready to Read Peer Reviewed Sources

How the heck do I read these articles??

Before you start reading...GET IN THE RIGHT MINDSET

  • Spend a few minutes thinking about your topic. 
  • In your mind or (better yet) on paper, brainstorm some of your initial thoughts about your topic. 
  • Try to generate a list of questions about your topic that you hope your sources will answer/clarify. 
  • Keep these thoughts and questions in your mind as you read---look for those answers! 
  • It REALLY helps to have a PURPOSE in mind when reading academic documents.


  • What is the official/legal/medical definition of ____________. (Fill in the blank with your topic)
  • How long has this been a problem?  What is the history of the problem?  Is the problem new or have recent events made the problem worse? 
  • Is there evidence that this problem is increasing or getting worse?
  • How common is the problem? 
  • Who is most affected by the problem?
  • What are the causes of the problem?

For this project, pay special attention to the negative effects/impacts of the problem…

  • Financially?
  • Legally?
  • Physical/medical?
  • Emotional/mental health?
  • Socially?
  • Educationally?

As much as possible, try to be positive/solution-focused…discover what can be done about the problem…

  • What has been done in the past?
  • What hasn’t worked?
  • Innovative solutions?
  • Evidence-based solutions?
  • What COULD be done?

Suggested Approach to Reading Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

  1. Read the Abstract Carefully
    • Get a clear sense of the paper’s focus…what research question did the study seek to answer?
    • What did the study conclude?

  1. Skip to the end of the article…Read the CONCLUSION

    • Journal articles are not like magazine articles, blog posts, or novels—they do not (and probably should not) be read chronologically the first time through
    • Reading the conclusion will help you decide if the article is a good fit for your topic and intended focus

  1. Read the Introduction and Methodology 
  • The introduction of generally provides background information on the issue and establishes a context for the study...this is a good place to build your own background knowledge, but it is NOT a good place to pull evidence because it is generally filled with citations from other sources
  • The methodology section is important in understanding WHERE/HOW the researchers gathered THEIR evidence for the current study--the methodology will generally tell you the population studied (i.e. who, how many, demographics, other characteristics and criteria), the focus of the study, the methods used to obtain data (i.e. surveys, assessments, interviews, focus group, experimental group with pre-post assessments, etc.)
  1. Slowly and carefully read the Discussion, then re-read the Conclusion

    • Highlight, take notes, identify key ideas and evidence...look for facts, statistics, definitions, examples, explanations, evidence-based results, etc. that help you develop a clear understanding of the issue, its impact, and possible solutions/treatments
    • It’s OK to skim (not skip) the Results sections as this is the most technical (but if you've had stats this is a great opportunity to apply what you learned!)
    • As you proceed through your 4 articles, look for the answers to the big questions you generated
    • You will find “common themes” (similar ideas and findings) emerge…these will become your headings

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