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The Writing Guide

Planning, researching, writing, referencing and drafting your assignments

Reading smarter

Reading Smarter           

Reading points

Before you read:

  • Read over your assignment task again, to remind yourself of the point of your assignment (it's very easy to get distracted by interesting things that are OTT)
  • Ask some questions you hope the article will help answer
  • Look at the quality of the source - did this come from a peer reviewed journal?  What kinds of works have the authors cited? (Don't let the answers bias you one way or another concerning the article, just be aware of who has written it and for what audience).

As you read:

  • Find new questions.  See if the article eventually answers them.
  • Make a note of anything that catches your attention (your "aha!" or "fancy that!" moments), and make a comment in the margins.
  • Think about the things you've already read, find points where the authors agree or disagree.

After you read:

  • Reflect!  Write a sentence or two about that article. 
    • Articulate:  what were they talking about (in a nutshell), what were they "good for" and what quotes sounded particularly quotable?
  • File!  Put that article somewhere sensible, so that you will be able to find it again without too much difficulty
  • Notice any gaps in your knowledge that you still need to plug.

How to read a journal article efficiently

You will probably find far too many journal articles and book chapters to read for your assignment, and if you try to read all of them the whole way through every time, you'll start to drown in the literature.

So follow these tips for reading articles to read smarter, not harder.

Read the abstract first

The article is summarised in the abstract. If you've read the abstract, but didn't see anything that might be helpful, put that article aside and move on.

Read the introduction and conclusion next

Most of the important details will be mentioned in the introduction and conclusion. If they look promising, move to the skimming phase.

Skim the discussion, then the rest of the article

Read the first sentence of each paragraph and skim through the rest of the paragraphs to look for keywords that stand out. Then you can target the paragraphs with the most useful information to read in more depth.

Scan the reference list

One good article can lead you to another - even an "average" article might lead you do a better one. Take a look at the reference list to find more resources to follow.

What makes a journal article scholarly?

A journal (also known as periodical or serial) contains a number of scholarly articles written by different authors. Journals are published at regular intervals throughout the year e.g monthly, quarterly and are available in both print and online formats.

Scholarly articles, also called academic articles, are intended for other experts and scholars, rather than the general public.

It's important to note that scholarly journals also publish:

  • editorials
  • book and film reviews
  • letters
  • news articles
  • commentaries

These are not considered to be scholarly articles. Make sure you look for some other clues before deciding that you're looking at a scholarly article. 

This video shows how to identify a scholarly article

If you've been asked to find peer reviewed research, you need to know what a peer reviewed research article looks like.

An academic article, also called a scholarly article, is an article written by an expert in an academic or professional field. These articles are intended for other experts and scholars, rather than the general public. There are several ways to determine whether an article is scholarly. While none of these are hard-and-fast rules, they can be useful clues:

  • The article is written by researcher(s), professional(s) or other expert(s).
  • The article commonly has more than one author (this isn't always true).
  • The article appears in an academic journal rather than a magazine or newspaper (but, keep in mind that not everything in an academic journal is a peer reviewed article).
  • The article is of significant length (usually over five pages).
  • The article includes a substantial bibliography or reference list.
  • The article is peer reviewed.
  • The article presents original research or analysis of a topic.
  • The article uses technical or expert-level language.



Re-used with permission thanks to Brooke Williams, Research & Instruction Services Librarian, Communication Studies & School of Journalism, Snell Library, Northeastern University.

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