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Featured Workshop: How to Read an Empirical Article

Scholarly articles are complex pieces of writing. They are written by scholars, for scholars, and the authors assume that readers will have extensive background knowledge of the field. As a student, you will need to work harder than a professional in the field to fully understand a scholarly article. This is not a bad thing. You just aren't as familiar with this research as a professional because you're still in college.

Follow these steps for reading success. You should read the article 3 times. By "read," I mostly mean SKIM looking for specific pieces of information.

  • READING 1: In your first reading, do not read the article from start to finish.
    • Read the title, abstract, and introduction.
    • Put a question mark (?) next to any word or concept you do not understand. Look them up so that you know what they mean (consult your textbook, an encyclopedia, the web).
    • Write down 1-2 sentences that summarize the article in your own words. This should answer the question: What is this article about?
  • READING 2: Now that you're oriented to the article and know the basics of the author's study, your second reading will allow you to pay attention to important details you missed the first time around.
    • Read the beginning and end of sub-sections (these are usually in Bold or Italics). Pay particular attention to topic sentences (authors make important points in the first sentences of their paragraphs).
    • Answer 3 questions:
      • 1. What is the purpose of the article?
      • 2. What are the author's main arguments (Look in the Introduction, or toward the end of the Literature Review. You might also find this near a Hypothesis or Research Question. Sometimes you have to distil the argument from a paragraph).
      • 3. What new contribution does this article make to the field? (Essentially... why does this study matter? You may find this in the Literature Review)
  • READING 3: This is your final pass - review sections that still confuse you.
    • Read the Discussion section.
    • Take notes on the evidence and findings. (This will be in the Discussion or Conclusion. You may consult the Results section.)
    • Answer 2 questions:
      • 1. What did the author find? 
      • 2. Did the author succeed in making their argument?