Miss Psychobabble: Tips on Critically Analyzing Journal Articles

In the field of Psychology, you have to constantly research among vast array of articles and make sure that you filter only the useful ones.  Sometimes, searching for the best article is like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Here are some of the tips that may help you with that:

1.  Observe the Article’s Structure or Formatting.
This is the first thing that you shall notice.  American Psychological Association or APA style is the most widely used format within the Psychology community (http://www.apastyle.org/manual/).  It must have all the necessary parts namely:  Abstract, Introduction, Review of Related Literature, Methodology, Results, Discussion, References and Appendices.

2.  Check the Credibility of the Author and the Journal Publication.Prefer an article that has been peer-reviewed and cited by others.  Usually the best articles are from scholarly journals with simple names such as Journal of Clinical Psychiatry or Cognition.  Usually, subscribing to well-known annals costs too much.  So if you’re a student, I suggest you visit these Journal database that provide open access or free complete version for useful journal articles:

3.  Analyze the study's aims and benefits.
Is the study important?  Contemplate whether the society will benefit from this study.  Did the researchers accomplish what they were looking for?  If not, why did they fail?

4.  Spot the study’s blind spots.
Do you find some errors in the results’ interpretation?  Did the researchers describe the methods adequately?  Are the tests used valid or reliable?  Prefer a study that uses standardized measures.
Who are the participants?  The strength of the result may depend on the sample.  Prefer a study that is age and gender representative.

5.  Examine the study’s limitations.
When was the study done?  A good study is no more than 10 years while a better study is from 5 years and below.  This is to ensure that the data, technology and condition of the society or environment are still relevant and updated.
Where was the study done?  Analyze whether a study is cross-culturally (generally/universally) relevant or culturally (specifically/locally) relevant.  For instance, if I were to study the effect of illegality of homosexuality to the homosexuals’ immediate families I can only study the countries that consider it as a crime (the red ones).
It is a common error for some to overly generalize the study’s results where in fact it is only relevant for a specific group of people.

To help you choose the most appropriate journal article, you must: "OCASE"
  • Observe the article’s structure, 
  • Check the credibility of the author and the journal publication, 
  • Analyze the study's aims and benefits, 
  • Spot the study’s blind spots, and 
  • Examine the study’s limitations