Journal articles are not always easy to read and often you will not need to read the whole thing to learn if it will be useful to you or to understand the main arguments. The articles below are taken from material at other universities and are aimed at undergraduates:
“Reading journal articles” is part of a great page on Reading at University from Napier University. This section is short but illustrates the general format of journal articles – the abstract and conclusion are good places to start.
“Evaluating journal articles” – from the University of Bath. A reminder that the quality and value of articles will vary and how to check.
A more advanced explanation of both these aspects is on Champlain College’s “Understanding Scholarly Articles” web page. This gives more information on the different sections within a journal article. A “Background”/”Literature Review” section can be extremely useful for surveying a topic in a more general sense (journal articles can have a very specific research focus). More recent articles will have the most up-to-date literature reviews.