It would make sense that when you sit down to read a journal article, you would start at the start and finish at the end. Not being a particularly sensible person, I will summarise the order in which I usually read journal articles:
1) Abstract: I probably read 5-10 abstracts for every full article I read. I find it a good filter.
2) Author Affiliations and Conflicts of Interest, Research Sponsorships: Possibly the most important text in the whole paper. It is essential that these points are noted so that you can make your own assessment of the integrity and independence of the article. It is also worthwhile noting that just because an author has declared a conflict of interest, that there isn’t a conflict of interest…
3) Conclusions: I read this next as it’s usually the most interesting part to read, rather like reading the end of a book without reading the middle.
4) Introduction: Should always answer the question “Why is the research being done in the first place?” If it doesn’t answer this question then I start to wonder if the authors know what they are doing.
5) Results: Sometimes interesting, sometimes tedious. However if I have got this far then I am genuinely interested in the article.
6) Methods: The most tedious part of all, so I leave it to last. However if I am going to use the article to change practice or for teaching purposes then I know I need to read this part, and carefully.
I hope you can see there is method to my madness. I suspect I may not be the only person who reads journal articles in a topsy-turvy way…..