This is an introductory guide to a component of academic research. It might be useful to a student making the difficult transition from second level to third level education; to a mature student returning to education, or to focus any student about to begin an academic assignment.
While the thrust of these posts concerns academic writing, a large portion of completing an academic assignment involves research; sourcing and reading relevant material. A chapter of a book could be devoted to sourcing relevant material. [I will address this in a future post] I will now provide academic reading tips that will aid academic research
Whatever assignment you are beginning, make sure to understand exactly what is required as indicated by:
- the title of the composition
- the question that is to be answered
- the terms of reference of the report
- the nature of the discipline (business, sociology, english literature)
Understand why you are writing and what you are writing about
How to read
Evaluate the source material
Whether you find a book, journal article, or an online resource check whether:
- the information is reliable, accurate and sufficiently up-to-date
Engage with the text by asking yourself questions as you read. Is the text relevant to your assignment? Do you understand the key points? Does the auther make a convincing argument? Is key information omitted? Are your main questions answered?
Consider the evidence and arguments presented and try to distinguish facts from opinions, observations and interpretations. Criticise and evaluate what you read.
Be ruthless with what you read. You may not need to read the entire book; maybe just a chapter or section of a chapter. Scan the table of contents and check the index for keywords, to aid precise reading. With a journal article, read the abstract section first to determine if it is relevant; before reading the main body.
Keep in mind the topic, research question and intended line of argument. What you read should be directed by questions posed by your research topic / question / hypothesis.
Take relevant notes; keeping your subject matter, and possible line of argument in mind. Do not forget to record the bibliographic details of the publication, in order to aid with future referencing. (I will provide detailed tips on academic referencing at a later date).
Content and Context
Pay close attention to the context as well as the content. What is the author’s backround/purpose for writing? What theoretical / structural discipline informs the writing? How is the information structured? How is it situated with respect to other leading studies in the field?
Use a dictionary
Look up the meaning of key words that you do not understand; they might be pivotal to the comprehensive understanding of the text. Do the same for key terms, events or ideas central to the argument that you might not be aware of. A quick Google search might work.
I hope these tips focus your research and point you in the right direction. If would like to add anything, please feel free to leave a comment below.