Today's blog is all about reading with purpose, understanding the parts of an article, and skimming that article with intent. In graduate school right now I read a minimum of 6 articles a week between my two courses Violence & Society and Crime, Control, & Inequality. That's a lot of reading, but you don't read everything–you skim! I am going to teach you how to skim with purpose in today's blog and I hope that you find this information super useful. These are things I wish I had learned way earlier in my college career, and it's never too early to start working on understanding these concepts.
Reading With Purpose
First of all, it's important to understand what reading with purpose actually means. There are a lot of reasons you might be reading an article. For example, each week I read three articles in my Violence & Society class. In my opinion, my reads are a bit softer in this class because the purpose of my paper is a reflection essay/review of the major findings in the paper. Obviously I skim the entire paper so that I will be able to have a productive class discussion, but I don't go into every single minute detail of a paper–I just don't have time for that. In my Crime, Control, & Inequality class, on the other hand, we take notes on each article so my reading has to be a bit more in-depth so that I can get the most important information from the articles and into my notes. That doesn't mean that I am reading every single article from start to finish.
When you sit down to read you really have to understand your purpose. Are you reading for fun, for a literature review, to study for a test, to write a reflection essay, to take notes? What is your purpose? This will help you decide and gauge the amount you need to skim or actually read of your article. Also, think back to past assignment grades. Each week in my Violence class we write a 2-page single space reflection essay on the work that we do. These past reflection essays and the feedback my professor gives on them are perfect for assessing if my skimming is actually working or not, or if I need to delve just a little bit deeper for the content my professor wants. This helps me when I sit down to read for the week and write my essay.
So now that you know how to read with purpose I am going to introduce you to the various parts of an academic journal article and how to read these parts with purpose.
Parts Of An Academic Journal Article
Depending on your purpose of reading, various parts of a journal article might make more or less sense to sit through. I am going to walk you through the major parts of an academic journal article and how you can get through each part and read them with purpose.
In my opinion, the abstract is one of the most important parts of an article. I feel like this is such an important piece to read no matter the purpose of your reading. The abstract is essentially a wrap up of the most important parts of the entire paper. It summarizes the major findings of the literature review, the data and methods section, and the conclusions. If you want to get a quick understanding of a study read it's abstract.
The purpose of the introduction it to set the scene for the entire paper. They will really let you know exactly what the paper hopes to look at, as well as give you a great look into the writer's potential writing style. I really encourage reading the introduction, as it is usually only a page at most (and usually just a few paragraphs.)
Okay, now we are getting to a good bulk of a paper. The literature review can be quite lengthy, but super important to any paper reading. So how exactly should you approach skimming this section? I will let you in on a little secret:
All Good Literature Reviews Have Section Headings
So what does that mean for you? It means you can skip around. In this article, as you can see, I have also used section headings. It makes the entire article a more pleasant read, because as a reader, you can decide exactly where you want to start reading. Don't care about learning about the abstract? That's cool, because you can skip straight down to my discussion of the discussion or the literature review.
Literature reviews are just like that. This means a few things. You can:
- See exactly what the literature review will be discussing at a glance.
- Delve a bit deeper into the parts that you care about.
- Read way fewer paragraphs by reading the introduction and conclusion paragraphs of each section.
Reading through the literature review is important. To understand the literature review as a whole you need to cover each of the sections of the literature review. You don't have to read every single piece of information in the literature review. You do have to skim the content and make sure you are picking up on the important information. I use a highlighter to go through and highlight any information I deem important or interesting. If it sparks a question I also like to make a few little notes in the margins as well.
Data & Methods
Okay, honestly I skim this part a lot. The data & methods is the bulk of any study/article because it is actually what they are talking about. This is their contribution to the literature. This is what you came here for technically. You can skim this section pretty easily, but you have to know some important information.
This section basically outlines their methodology or how they intend to measure what they are looking for. They probably told you in the introduction what they are looking for. They may choose a survey, one-on-one interviews, group interviews, a content analysis, an experiment, something else, or a combination of various measurements. If you want to get the bulk of the methods section, understand these questions:
- What method(s) they used to study their subject.
- Who participated in their study? What are their genders? What are their ages? Where are they from? What makes them a special and important group to study.
This section is where they actually provide their results. What did the survey, content analysis, or experiment yield as far as tangible results? Honestly, I skip over this section quite a bit, because I am not super savvy when it comes to reading charts and various numbers. In my opinion, the tables and extra frill are really there to say “I am way more science-y than my other doctorate competitors.” So, what do I do if I don't really look at the tables? I read their explanations of the data in the data section, but specifically in the discussion section.
So this is where the data talk really heats up, this is where they discuss exactly what they found and how it relates to the literature they discussed earlier. If tables and stats give you hives then I would definitely suggest reading their actual discussion on the data that they found. I am not the best at statistics past the simple descriptive statistical analysis so I rely pretty heavily on their discussion of their data in the data and discussion sections.
Conclusion & Limitations/Future Research
The conclusion and limitations/future research sections can be super important. The conclusion section really ties up all the loose ends to any research that was done and really does a good job of tying all of the pieces and parts together in a nice, neat bow. This discusses if they really proved their hypotheses or not, and what that means as far as the validity of their research. This is a great part to skim.
One section that I really wanted to touch on, that depending on your purpose you might skip or skim is the limitations/future research section. Sometimes this has a section all it's own, but a lot of the time it's just tacked on to the conclusion section. The purpose of this section is to let readers know what they had a hard time with. Maybe their sample wasn't as big or as diverse as they would like or they were sponsored by someone who might have swayed their research a little. This also just talks about what they'd like to see in future papers. This is a great place to skim if the purpose of your reading is to get some ideas for future research projects. I love this article on how to use the future research and limitations section to come up with new research topic ideas.
Lastly, I also think the works cited part of any article is important to skim if you are reading to get ideas on your own research paper. You can use the sources they use to build your literature review, find potential data sets, and more. For instance, when I did research during my senior year of college in my senior seminar course one particular book kept coming up in the literature reviews of all the articles I was researching. This was such an important resource for me when I was writing my paper because I was able to actually have a great resource in my paper that I otherwise wouldn't have seen because I was focusing specifically on articles.
Random Information About Skimming
To end this hopefully really beneficial talk all about article skimming I am also going to let y'all in on a few other random pieces of information about article skimming that I think are important.
Don't Get Caught Up With Reading
When you are skimming, don't get too caught up reading. Often times when you set out to skim it becomes a reading fest because one interesting thing might lead to another interesting thing. That is all fine and good, but remember to note when you are skimming over just reading a bunch of the words. The most important thing to remember is don't discount skimming if you aren't skimming but actually just reading everything in an article. Efficient skimming takes practice to get down, and it's something that you will probably be working at for a long time.
Set A Timer
One practice that I use to not get caught up with my reading is to set a timer or at the very least a time that I'd like to be done with skimming an article. This helps get my brain conditioned to skim a bit faster and to spend less time reading every minute detail, because I admit I get caught up with reading too, and this is the best method I have found for curving that. You may not follow your time exactly right the first few times, but you can start to understand how these things may work together and change the way you skim to fit your time limit.
Overall, I hope that today's post has been super helpful for anyone who is struggling to read all of the various readings they get each week. This is the information I wish someone would have told me when I first started college. I would have been so much more proficient at reading articles today if I had this basic information when I first started reading articles.