Step One: Write down you research topic or question
Establish what your research topic or research question is. Even a very broad topic gives you a starting point and will help keep you from getting lost and feeling overwhelmed.
Step Two: Read the Abstract
Once you find an article that might relate to your topic, read the abstract! The abstract summarizes the purpose of the article. As you read the abstract, ask yourself: does this relate to your topic or question? If yes, then save the article for later by downloading the PDF, saving it in a citation manager like Zotero, or copying and pasting the citation information in a document. You do not need to read the entire article in that moment. Focus on finding a handful of articles that seem useful.
Step Three: Skim the Article
Once you have an article that you think will be useful, skim it! Read the introduction and the conclusion/discussion sections of the article. While reading, ask yourself: does this article provide you with new information about your topic or question? Does it provide a perspective on your topic you haven't seen before? If yes, then skim the other sections of an article to get a better sense of how this article relates to your topic. If no, then put the article aside. You likely don't need multiple articles that cover the same basic information.
Step Four: Close Read the Article
Once you are sure an article is going to be useful to your research, then take the time to close read the article. Close reading is getting up close and personal with the text. While you're reading, take notes about the article, even if it's just summarizing the content. This will help you engage more fully with the article. The more work you do to identify key ideas or bits of information while reading, the less work you will have to do when it comes time to write your paper.
Helpful note taking styles:
Step Five: Look at the References
While this step could fall anywhere in this list, once you have an article that really fits your topic don't forget to look at the references. The references will identify other articles on the topic and can lead you to other sources for you paper. The author has already done a lot of the work in listing key literature on the topic for you.
Scholarly articles may often seem unapproachable, but they are really organized in a manner to make identifying a useful article easier for researchers. Scholarly articles are very formulaic in their constructions, knowing this formula makes reading them and identifying useful articles easier. Almost all articles are constructed using the following ingredients.