Reading scholarly sources can be difficult. This handout provides strategies to help you read dense, lengthy academic articles efficiently and effectively.
1: Examine the article for its audience
Examine the article and its publisher for clues. Peer-reviewed academic journals are intended for scholars in that field, whereas popular titles (like Time or Newsweek) are intended for a more general audience. You may not be the primary audience for the text, and that’s OK. If this is the case, the author may reference other scholarly works assuming that you’ve read them, or they may cite facts or events that you haven’t learned about. If you encounter these elements, notice them, but try to keep moving through the article – sometimes you can keep moving without looking everything up. Also remember that if you are not the primary audience, you may not enjoy the writing style – so a little perseverance may be necessary!
2: Think about why your professor assigned this reading
You may not be the author’s intended audience, but understanding the reason you’ve been asked to read the article can help you stay engaged and read with purpose. What subject will this article prepare you discuss? How does this article fit into the main questions or topics of the course? What will the instructor ask you to do with the knowledge you gain from the article?
3: Skim strategically to identify the main argument or idea in the text
Before you read the text from beginning to end, skim it strategically to locate the author’s main purpose and argument. Having the author’s purpose and main argument in mind can help you read and interpret the rest of the text. These are sections where you are likely to find info about purpose and main point:
4: Skim for the article’s organization or “architecture”
Before you read the text from beginning to end, skim it to get a sense of its organization or “architecture.” Doing this gives you a mental map that helps you see the different parts of the article and how they function in the overall argument. This perspective can help you read and process the article more easily. Strategies for building a mental map of the article’s organization include these:
As you read the body of the text ….
Use your knowledge about the main point of the article and context clues from your class as you decide which parts of the article deserve most of your energy, and where you can skim.
Make It Social!
Engage with your professor and peers, discuss your questions, and help your friends out!
Always keep in mind that reading academic writing means you’re participating in a conversation.