Why Is It Difficult to Understand Journal Articles?

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Have you ever struggled to comprehend a journal article, even after reading it multiple times? Why is it difficult to understand journal articles? You’re not alone. Comprehending academic writing can be daunting for many individuals, whether they are students, researchers, or professionals in various fields.

The ability to effectively read and understand journal articles is crucial in today’s information-driven world. Students must often engage with scholarly literature to expand their knowledge and complete assignments in academic settings. Professionals, too, must stay up-to-date with the latest research in their fields to make informed decisions and advance their careers.

However, deciphering journal articles can be challenging due to several factors.

Complex vocabulary, technical jargon, and dense writing styles are just a few obstacles readers may encounter. As a result, many individuals struggle to extract meaningful information from these texts, leading to frustration and a lack of confidence in their ability to engage with academic content. Reputable journals such as Nature and Science publish key breakthroughs, but only limited people can understand the content and impact.

The write-up explores why understanding journal articles can be difficult and provides strategies for overcoming these challenges. We will begin by examining the complex nature of academic writing and the factors contributing to its complexity. Next, we will discuss effective techniques for breaking down and comprehending journal articles, including active reading strategies and methods for decoding unfamiliar terminology.

Finally, we will summarize the key points and give readers a call to action to implement these strategies in their academic and professional endeavors.

By the end of this article, you will better understand the challenges associated with reading journal articles and be equipped with practical tools for enhancing your comprehension skills.

The Role and Importance of Academic Journals

Academic journals and articles are fundamental to the scholarly communication landscape, performing several key roles.

Firstly, they act as a repository and dissemination medium for new research findings. Journals provide a platform for researchers to share their work with the global academic community, allowing for knowledge expansion and intellectual collaboration. This accessibility is critical in advancing academic disciplines and stimulating further research and innovation.

Secondly, they offer a peer review process vital to maintaining scientific rigor and integrity. Before an article is published, it is typically evaluated by experts in the field for its methodology, accuracy, and contribution to the discipline. This process helps ensure the research is reliable and worthy of inclusion in the scholarly record.

Thirdly, academic journals facilitate the establishment of a recognized scholarly record. Citations from these articles play a significant role in measuring the impact and influence of research, affecting academic careers, funding opportunities, and the reputation of institutions. The cumulative knowledge captured in journal articles can signal the development and trajectory of specific fields of study.

Furthermore, academic journals help set research agendas and establish academic standards. They often reflect the prevailing theories, methodologies, and significant topics within a discipline. By curating content, they implicitly endorse certain directions of inquiry while underrepresenting others, which can guide the focus of upcoming research.

Lastly, journal articles are educational resources for students, educators, and practitioners. They provide detailed accounts of research studies, including theoretical backgrounds, methods, results, and interpretations, which can educate readers on advanced concepts and practices in the field.

In light of their role and importance, journals and articles should be approached critically, acknowledging biases in publishing practices, access limitations, and the potential for misuse of citation metrics. The benefits and challenges in academic publishing shape the research environment within which academics and scholars operate.

Why Understanding Journal Articles is Difficult

Reading and comprehending journal articles can be challenging, even for experienced researchers and academics. The nature of the research, the language’s complexity, the content’s density, and the variations in structure and formatting all contribute to the difficulty of understanding these scholarly works.

Niche Research Area

The specialized nature of journal articles inherently aligns with the progression of science and academia, where deep dives into narrow subject areas enable the push at the boundaries of human knowledge. Since journal articles are primary sources contributing to the body of scholarly work, they often encapsulate original research, theories, and findings. This means they are frequently written with an expectation that the reader has a pre-existing level of expertise in the field, including the understanding of specialized terminology, methodologies, and the context of prior research.

Due to their specialization, journal articles might rely heavily on complex disciplinary jargon and assume a level of familiarity that can alienate or confuse readers not well-versed in that specific niche. This is not merely a matter of vocabulary; the concepts themselves can be intrinsically challenging, often representing the latest and sometimes contentious developments in a field.

Moreover, the original discoveries reported in journal articles might involve sophisticated experimental techniques, statistical analyses, or theoretical models at the frontier of current methods. Even within a field, researchers may need to update themselves regularly on these advancing methods, which can be time-consuming and challenging, further contributing to the difficulty in comprehension.

Journal articles also tend to be succinct, prioritizing brevity and density of information. As a result, the background context that might make the research more approachable is often omitted, requiring readers to seek information from other sources to understand the new findings fully. The interconnectivity of modern research can mean that a full understanding of one journal article might depend on familiarity with several others, thus increasing the cognitive load on the reader.

Additionally, while essential to maintaining scientific rigor, the peer review process can also introduce opacity. The feedback and revision cycle often focuses on clarifying and solidifying arguments for an expert audience, sometimes at the expense of broader accessibility. This can result in technically sound and tightly argued articles that are also dense and steeped in the specific academic dialogue of a research community.

Furthermore, there is the issue of statistical and data interpretation, which requires a high level of numeracy and methodological knowledge. The difficulty is compounded when the research involves cutting-edge or less widely applied statistical methods. Understandably, without a deep statistical background, the reader may struggle to interpret the results correctly, assess the conclusions’ validity, or evaluate the potential for replication.

Complex Vocabulary and Terminologies

One of the primary reasons why journal articles can be challenging to understand is the use of complex vocabulary and technical terminology. Academic writing often employs specialized language specific to the field of study, which may not be familiar to readers outside of that discipline. For example, a medical journal article might use terms like “myocardial infarction” instead of the more common term “heart attack.” This use of jargon can make it difficult for non-experts to grasp the main ideas and concepts presented in the article.

Dense and Formal Writing Style

Another factor contributing to the difficulty in understanding journal articles is the dense and formal writing style often used in academic writing. Researchers tend to pack a lot of information into each sentence, using complex sentence structures and long paragraphs. This writing style can be hard to follow, especially for readers unfamiliar with this type of prose. The formal tone and lack of personal anecdotes or examples can make the content feel dry and unengaging, further hindering comprehension.

Varied Structures and Formatting Styles

Finally, the varied structures and formatting styles used in different disciplines can make understanding journal articles challenging. For instance, a psychology journal article might follow a format different from a biology journal article, with different sections and headings. This lack of consistency can make it difficult for readers to navigate the content and identify the most critical information. Furthermore, some disciplines may rely heavily on graphs, charts, and other visual aids, which can be difficult to interpret without a solid understanding of the underlying concepts.

Understanding journal articles is difficult due to the complex vocabulary, dense writing style, and varied structures used in academic writing. However, by developing effective reading strategies and gaining familiarity with the conventions of specific disciplines, readers can improve their ability to comprehend and engage with these essential scholarly works.

How to Understand Journal Articles

Employing a few key strategies, you can crack the code and unlock the wealth of knowledge in these academic texts.

Knowledge in the Research Area

Basic knowledge and understanding of the research area related to a journal article helps you understand the content more easily. Scientific discourse employs a lexicon that is often highly specific and nuanced. Without a grounding in the language used, it is challenging to follow the arguments and conclusions of a research article. Knowledge aids in understanding these terms without constantly referring to external sources.

Secondly, understanding standard methodologies and research practices within the area is crucial. Research articles often describe experimental setups, data collection methods, and analysis techniques that are commonplace within the research community but may be cryptic to outsiders. Recognizing these methods helps in assessing the validity and reliability of the study’s results.

In addition, prior knowledge also provides a mental framework of the existing literature and theories within a field. This context is vital for assessing a new article’s contributions, understanding its references to past work, and appreciating the nuances of the discourse. Without this, it’s hard to evaluate the significance of new findings or understand the conversation the article is participating in within the broader research community.

Breaking Down Complex Sentences

One effective approach to understanding journal articles is to break down complex sentences into simpler components. When you encounter a lengthy or convoluted sentence, take a moment to identify the main subject, verb, and object. By isolating these core elements, you can better comprehend the basic structure and meaning of the sentence.

Additionally, look for transitional words and phrases that signal the relationship between ideas, such as “however,” “furthermore,” or “in contrast.” These markers can help you follow the logical flow of the argument and connect different parts of the text.

Utilizing Context Clues and Background Knowledge

Another powerful tool for deciphering journal articles is using context clues and your background knowledge. Consider the surrounding sentences and paragraphs when encountering an unfamiliar term or concept. Often, authors provide explanations, examples, or analogies that can help clarify the meaning of the term in question.

Moreover, draw upon your existing knowledge of the subject matter to make educated guesses about the significance of new information. By actively engaging with the text and applying your understanding, you can more easily bridge the gap between the article’s content and your knowledge base.


Understanding journal articles can be challenging for many reasons, rooted primarily in the complex nature of academic writing and the specialized knowledge often required to grasp the material thoroughly.

The jargon and technical language specific to each field can present a significant barrier to comprehension, especially for interdisciplinary researchers or those new to a particular study area. Authors might assume a level of prior knowledge that readers do not possess, leading to difficulties in understanding without extensive background research.

Additionally, the structure of journal articles, which often follows a standardized format of abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion, may not always present information in a way that is easily digestible for readers seeking to gain a quick understanding of the research. The necessity for precision and detail in methodology and results can lead to dense text sections that are difficult to interpret without a careful, methodical approach.

Furthermore, journal articles typically report new findings or argue for particular theories or methodologies, which means they are often situated at the cutting edge of knowledge production. This inherently means grappling with complex ideas, unresolved debates, and nuanced arguments that might not be easily summarized or understood without a considerable investment of time and intellectual effort on the reader’s part.

In conclusion, the difficulty in understanding journal articles stems from the intersection of language and audience within the context of advanced knowledge production. Achieving mastery over the language of a specific academic discipline and the cognitive tools to dissect and assimilate complex new information is essential for readers aiming to overcome these challenges and gain a clear and nuanced understanding of scholarly research.

Therefore, as readers engage with journal articles, they may find that comprehension demands familiarity with the subject matter and a broader set of critical reading and scientific literacy skills.

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