- If you are using the article for an assignment, photocopy it if possible so that you may write directly on it and highlight important sections or areas to quote. Otherwise take notes on a separate sheet of paper. Circle or jot down key words, unfamiliar words, and important phrases.
- What is the context? (i.e., the piece of writing in a book, a scholarly journal, or a popular magazine?)
- Read the title, headings and epigraphs. What do they reveal about the subject matter of the piece? Can you tell what the argument might be from the title?
- Read the first few sentences and notice how the writer opens the article. What do those sentences tell you about tone, purpose, and direction?
- Examine the structure: Are there subheadings? If so, what do they tell you about the structure of the overall argument?
- Who is the writer—scholar, editor, teacher, literary writer?
- Who might the intended audience be? Why does this matter?
- How does the writer open the essay? (anecdote, quotation, personal story, historical example, literary reference etc.)
- Take notes as you read. Paraphrase the author in point form, attempting to summarize each paragraph in one or two points.
- Does the writer make emotional appeals or appeals of logic to the audience?
- What structure and format are evident in the writing?
- What is the tone of the writing? Passionate, angry, upset, stilted, calm, distanced, engaged?
- What is the diction? Colloquial, slang laden, academic, formal?
- What kind of evidence is the writer using? Citation, anecdote, personal example, analogy?
- Did the writer persuade you of her argument?
- Did the arguments add up logically?
- What was the depth and breadth of the research? Look at the works cited to help determine this. Examine the list to see what sources were used: articles, books, interviews, or webpages. Do the sources used seem fitting for the subject?
- What was the quality of the writing? Were ideas introduced clearly, in carefully structured paragraphs? Did the paragraphs have smooth transitions between them?
- Is the piece useful in your research?
Reading Academic Articles: Overview
As you read, take notes. This helps you focus on the main ideas; and your notes will enable you to synthesize the big ideas more quickly.
Note the important parts of each paragraph in point form. This will make it easier to synthesize all the ideas later. Look for references to literary theory, ideas that are well detailed, repeated ideas, and major themes. Pay special attention to topic sentences (the first sentence in each paragraph) and transition sentences (the last sentences in each paragraph). These sentences can guide you along through the main points of the article.
After the introductory paragraphs, look for and note the citation and summary of other scholars. How does the writer position her thesis inside the conversation already going on?
As you continue, you will encounter multiple scholarly voices—the writer talks back by summarizing previous work in the area. Note who is talking and what they are saying. It’s best to note in point form to avoid plagiarism or to be careful and note exactly what they are saying in the form of a direct quotation.
A paragraph usually develops one aspect of the central argument/thesis. Try to summarize each paragraph with one or two point-form notes, reading only for the main ideas but also considering the effectiveness of examples.
As you read, ask yourself,
If I were writing a summary of this paragraph, what would be important to include? or
What is the author saying here? and
How is he saying it?
The body of the essay moves between paraphrased summary and citation summary, using these as a place from which to build new knowledge.
What does the author conclude? Were you surprised by the conclusion or did the article build naturally to the final points?
Using the strategies out lined above, read and respond to the following Canadian Literature article: