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Read a scholarly article

Purpose for reading the article Assigned reading for class/homework Reading in prep for an essay exam Determining whether to use this source for a paper Using the article as a source for a paper Research project *, independent study, etc.
Order in which to read sections / what sections to focus on Abstract, Introduction, Discussion & Conclusion Abstract, Introduction, Discussion & Conclusion (might read article multiple times) Abstract All Parts: Abstract, Introduction, Discussion & Conclusion, Methodology & Results, References (might read article multiple times) All Parts: Abstract, Introduction, Discussion & Conclusion, Methodology & Results, References (might read article multiple times)
Why to focus on these sections To get the main gist of the article; for a class discussion or related assignment To get the main gist of the article; to identify main themes and points and how you might describe them in your essay(s) To determine whether this article can be used as a possible source To identify main points and quotations that can be used in the paper To identify the author's research question, whether it was sufficiently addressed and how, any gaps or limitations, and future directions for research
Questions to keep in mind while reading
  • What is the author's main argument? Do you agree?
  • How is this article relevant to what you're discussing in class?
  • What are some quotes in the article that express the author's intent well?
  • How would you summarize this article?
  • How many articles do you need to study? That should influence how much time you put into studying this one.
  • What are the essay questions, if your professor has shared them ahead of time? If not, what are some big questions they might ask you to address?
  • Do you only need the main points or themes from the article, or very specific details?
  • What is the author's argument and is it well supported?
  • Does the article support or contradict your argument? (Both are good to include in a paper.)
  • What is your research question? What is the author's question?
  • Does this article support or contradict your argument? (Both are good to include in a paper.)
  • Where does this article fit in the overall organization of your paper?
  • Do any of the author's citations sound interesting or relevant to your topic?
  • Is the author's research question clearly defined? How closely is it related to your own research question?
  • Did the author adequately cover current research on the topic? (It's worth taking a quick search of Google Scholar or the library databases to see if they've left anything out.)
  • What kinds of methods and data analysis did the author use? Do you want to structure your own study in a similar way?
  • What questions are you left with after reading this article? Are there flaws in the methodology? Were results inconclusive? What were the limitations of the study?

* Research has two meanings:

  • Doing a thorough investigation of a topic (this would include things like searching Google, doing library research, etc.). When we say "research paper", we're referring to this kind of research.
  • Trying to answer a specific question through experimentation and analysis. When we say "research project", we're referring to this kind of research.

This table was adapted from Tips for Reading Scholarly and Journal Articles by Jodi Rosenblatt and Erika Smith.

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