Academic Writing Complete Guide

Why read academic articles?

1.1 Introduction

If it's your first time reading an academic article apart from the normal books, then you stand to gain several things. First academic articles are important, and this is the reason why:

  • They provide information
  • They equip you with knowledge about the existing thoughts on your area of interest
  • They give you clues as to how academic writers engage in the writing process
  • You get to know different academic experts that challenge the academic opinions and information as well as the conventional thoughts

When you read such complex information, you gain an important and employability skill. However, not every student finds reading this type of information easy. If you manage this and absorb the information in the best way for the task you have, it will be certainly applicable when you get formal employment. This skill goes beyond learning and writing assignments in school. You get the ability to identify and evaluate the quality of the information you are about to use.

This implies that you have to read these articles with diverse objectives, which can be divided in to two broad categories:

  • Getting the overview of the authors comments about a specific topic
  • Getting some empirical information or theoretical ideas developed by the author to use in your paper

These objectives coupled with your preferred learning style will affect the way you read the source material. The underlying factor here is to try every method until you find the best way of reading. It should align with the aims of your project. As you read, you can use the following guiding codes:

  • Ascertain that you can differentiate between ideas, quotes, information obtained from your reading as well as personal ideas
  • Write down crucial information and reference it appropriately in your work
importance of academic writing article

1.2 Useful ideas for article reading


  • You have to differentiate your notes from reading
    • Use a pen of a different color
    • Enclose your notes in square brackets
    • Use mini posts in notes
    • Highlighter pens are necessary
  • Ways of reading the article
    • Using a pen and a notepad – this can take a lot of time if you need detailed information. However, it comes in handy when remembering the information and gives room for your comments.
    • Using photocopies – this mostly applies to the short chapters and journal articles. It makes it easier to define personal ideas and the notes you get from reading the article. However, it does not have much room for personal thoughts, and it is hard to adapt the information to your mind.
  • You can read the article in pairs, or small groups and discuss it after that. This is a chance to test your ideas on the article as you start thinking about the ideas in the articles. This goes beyond testing your knowledge of the information within the article.
writing guide for students

1.3 Efficient use of books and articles

When you are using resources especially for assessments, you have to evaluate the usefulness of the resource with regard to your work. There are ways you can use to ascertain the usefulness of the source material without reading it entirely. If you identify a useful source, you can decide to read it entirely or go with relevant chapters or sections. Consider the following tips:

  • If you are using journal articles, reports or yet to be published the Ph.D. thesis, then you can use their executive summary or abstract. It contains all the major information pertaining to the work, and it will enable you to know if the work is worth reading entirely or just some parts.
  • If you are dealing with short articles, the first two paragraphs and the last two paragraphs with giving you a hint of the work contains any information that relates to your topic. Note that these paragraphs are the introduction and the conclusions. If they do not have any relevant information, the chances are that the entire work is not as useful as you thought. Decide whether to scan through the information or simply read it entirely.
  • You will rarely have the time to read an entire textbook, but how you deal with this hinges on the organization of the book. Chapter titles can sometimes help you in identifying relevant chapters or sections of the book that apply to your research. You can get an idea of useful information for specific topics from the index. Alternatively, scan the introduction of the book to get the general idea of the author’s perspective. Ascertain if the author has a biased perspective to enable your evaluation of what you are reading.
  • Taking regular breaks If you read for a long period, the eyes get tired, and you can only do much to adequately assess and understand the information before your concentration and judgment start dwindling. There is proof that the cycle of a person’s concentration picks up every 20 minutes. Taking short breaks is necessary to stretch your legs, take a cup of coffee, or have a quick chat with someone. However, do not get too distracted.

1.4 Taking Notes

The structure of your notes hinges on the type of reading you are doing, what you are reading for, and your style of learning. For a visual learner, tactics like spider diagrams or mind maps that show how arguments are linked can apply. If you have an article that is giving the two sides of a topic, you can write the ‘for’ or ‘against’ list of notes. If a topic has several perspectives, you can arrange your notes as a list of issues with each perspective pinned against them. If you are reading for information only, you can use a flowchart or a timeline necessary to track the processes.

As you are evaluating and writing notes, do not forget about your purpose, failure to which you will only summarize the text and form not a concrete opinion on it. You can stop severally midway in your writing to ponder the information you have read. You never know, this can be the best time to formulate a mind-map or a spider diagram.

Exercise

Reading introduction and conclusions can be useful. However, you need to gauge the amount of information they provide and then list the important points of the book or article. Identify useful topics that can use the material from this resource. Identify any weaknesses in the argument presented by the authors.

Test some of the note taking techniques in one of your articles and make a comparison. You will be able to identify what suits you and what helps with your learning style.

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