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How to Read a Scholarly Article

Tips for reading academic articles and books like a pro.

Scholarship is a Genre

A genre is a category of creative works that share characteristics or key elements in subject matter or style, and which represent a shared expectation between the author and the reader. For example, in the superhero movie genre, we expect to see characters in the roles of hero and villain, with elements of fantasy (i.e. superpowers) and action in the plot. Recognizing familiar elements of the genre can help us to follow the plot and relate to the characters.

Academic writing is also a genre, with predictable features and styles that vary only slightly across the different disciplines. Knowing these elements and the familiar "plot" of a scholarly article or book can help you to read and understand academic texts efficiently and effectively.

Authors are Superheroes

superhero iconIf academic writing was a superhero movie:

  • The the problem or gap in knowledge is the villain
  • The literature review is the villain's origin story (how the problem came about)
  • The author is the hero who will solve the problem (i.e. defeat the villain)
  • The methods are the hero's superpowers (how the problem will be solved)
  • The author's conclusion is the dramatic final battle
  • The author's citations and bibliography are the film credits, acknowledging everyone that aided in the author's victory

Consider this...

The purpose of academic writing is to convey information and persuade readers to agree with the author's interpretation or findings. Since we don't read academic writing for entertainment, we often want to get to the point as quickly as possible. With that in mind:

  • Consider reading the author's conclusion first.
  • Read the methods and results when you're ready to analyze and evaluate the author's work.
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