When you’re doing dissertation research and preparing your literature review, you will likely need to read many scholarly articles. Scholarly or academic articles are articles that are peer-reviewed. That is to say, they’ve been vetted and approved by other scholars. You will most likely treat them as secondary sources. It’s important to read the scholarly articles on your dissertation topic: in doing so, you’ll gain an in-depth understanding of the state of the current academic conversation on your research area.
It can, however, get easy to feel bogged down in research. Academic articles can be long and sometimes difficult to get through. And when you’re writing a dissertation, you need to spend as much time on the business of writing as you can – at some point, you need to put down your reading and get writing!
There are ways to get through scholarly articles more quickly. Here are a few tips and ideas for reading efficiently.
Read the Abstract
Before you delve into an article, check and see if an abstract is available. Scholarly article databases like JSTOR and ProQuest usually provide an abstract before the article. The abstract outlines the basic argument and methods of the article. By reading the abstract first, you’ll discover whether or not the article is even relevant to your dissertation research – you may discover that it isn’t, saving you valuable time down the road!
Find the Argument
Dr. Becky Rosenberg of the University of Washington recommends finding the article’s main claim or thesis. Once you identify the thesis, you can more clearly see how the content of the article relates to that thesis. It can make it easier to read the article. She also suggests that, as you read, you assess that claim. Ask: what do you think of the argument? This can be a helpful strategy when you’re reading secondary sources for your literature review, as your literature review needs to include your assessment of your secondary sources.
Understand the Structure
Scholarly articles typically follow particular structures and conventions. These may vary from discipline to discipline, but, as this how-to guide from Pasadena City College notes, you’ll often find the following features:
Introduction (why they did the research)
Methodology (how they did the research)
Results (what happened)
Discussion (what the results mean)
Conclusion (what they learned)
References (whose research they read)
In certain fields, particularly in the humanities, these different sections may not be clearly marked – but they are usually there. You may find it helpful to mark out the sections of the article as you read. Keeping these sections in mind can help with your research, as it can enable you to zero in on the information that you’re seeking – for instance, perhaps on the results or conclusion are of interest to you.
Read With Your Dissertation Topic in Mind
Here’s a secret that your professors may not disclose to you: you do not have to read an entire scholarly article closely in order to grasp its argument. This video from the Kishwaukee College Library recommends having a clear sense of your research question when you delve into an article. Once you’ve got a clear question, you can skim, and focus on the portions of the article that are directly relevant to your dissertation research. If you’re reading on a computer, you can even use your browser’s “find” option to look for relevant keywords within the article.
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