Scholarly Article Autopsy

Brief Description:

In this activity (adapted from Project Cora), students work in groups to examine and practice navigating the component parts of a scholarly article and then compare it to a non-scholarly article on the same topic. Through the activity and follow-up discussion, students will explore:

  • How to identify scholarly articles
  • How and why they are created
  • Authority issues for scholarly and non-scholarly
  • Why this is useful to their research
  • How these principles apply to other formats

Primary Learning Outcomes:

  • Compare the unique attributes of different information formats and describe the significance of using a particular format in a research project. (4.3)
  • Describe the value that information derived from various sources would bring to a research project. (5.2)

Additional Learning Outcomes:

  • Frame pertinent questions about sources’ origins and context when considering them as support for a claim. (4.1)
  • Explain the relationships among selected sources, in preparation to represent a spectrum of viewpoints on a topic in a research project. (5.3)

Time Needed:

50 mins or more depending on depth of discussion


  • Worksheet [Word] [PDF]
  • Article List (or choose your own) [Word] [PDF]
  • Printable Activity Plan [Word] [PDF]


  1. Introduce the process (5 minutes): Hand out and review the worksheet together so that all understand what to do. Guide students to list of articles so they can find the articles assigned to their group. Tell them to assign a recorder and presenter(s).
  2. Scholarly autopsy activity (30-40 minutes): Allow students to complete the worksheet, frequently checking in with each pair/group to judge progress. When the students reach questions 8-11 they may either work from a printed copy of the comparison article or an online version as linked in the list of articles.
  3. Report back (20-30 minutes): Bring group back together and have students present. Here is a possible discussion structure:
    • Ask all of the presenters with article 1 to discuss questions 1-3.
    • Have presenters for article 2 come up and talk about questions 4-5, citations. Make a connection between the citations and bibliographies and lit reviews.
    • Have presenters for article 3 talk about the research question. Talk about what a research question is and what role it plays in the creation of information.
    • Have presenters for article 4 talk about methods used and their role in information creation and authority construction.
    • Finally, have presenters for article 5 talk about the comparison to non-scholarly. Make sure they point out the visible differences on-screen.
    • Guide the discussion so as to frame each element from the scholarly articles in terms of the research process and to emphasize the contexts in which scholarly and non-scholarly sources may be appropriate.

Instructor’s Notes:

The above process must be adapted to fit with the number of groups constituted and the example articles used. For a shorter class session, use one set of articles and have the groups only answer the questions they will present.

Multimedia Connections:

It is possible to replace some of the non-scholarly articles with video or audio clips, tweets, or other multimedia content. Be sure to keep the items short enough to be consumed in the alloted time.

Questions about this activity? Contact Maisha Duncan Carey.

Creative Commons BY-NC-SAScholarly Article Autopsy by Maisha Duncan Carey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.