Guest post: How to read an academic article

I found the following short guide(link to original) created by Dr. Peter Klein of the University of Missouri very useful.  Professor Klein kindly gave permission for me to post this here.  The key concept introduced is the idea of “efficient reading”, which I interpret as being able to determine whether the paper in question is relevant to your research topic.

How to Read an Academic Article

| Peter Klein |

This fall I’m teaching “Economics of Institutions and Organizations” to first-year graduate students. The reading list is rather heavy, compared to what most students are used to from their undergraduate courses and their first-year courses in microeconomics, econometrics, etc. I explain that they need to become not only avid readers, but also efficient readers, able to extract the maximum information from an academic article with the least effort. They need to learn, in other words, the art of the skim.

When I’ve explained this in the past, students have responded that they don’t know how to skim. So a couple years back I put together a little handout, “How to Read an Academic Article,” with a few tips and tricks. I emphasize that I don’t mean to be patronizing, and that they should ignore the handout if its contents seem painfully obvious. But students have told me they really appreciate having this information. So, I reproduce the handout below. Any comments and suggestions for improvement?

How to Read an Academic Article

  1. Caveat: no single style works for everyone!
  2. Klein’s basic steps for skimming, scanning, processing…
    1. Read the abstract (if provided)
    2. Read the introduction.
    3. Read the conclusion.
    4. Skim the middle, looking at section titles, tables, figures, etc.—try to get a feel for the style and flow of the article.
      1. Is it methodological, conceptual, theoretical (verbal or mathematical), empirical, or something else?
      2. Is it primarily a survey, a novel theoretical contribution, an empirical application of an existing theory or technique, a critique, or something else?
    5. Go back and read the whole thing quickly, skipping equations, most figures and tables.
    6. Go back and read the whole thing carefully, focusing on the sections or areas that seem most important.
  3. Once you’ve grasped the basic argument the author is trying to make, critique it!
    1. Ask if the argument makes sense. Is it internally consistent? Well supported by argument or evidence? (This skill takes some experience to develop!)
    2. Compare the article to others you’ve read on the same or a closely related subject. (If this is the first paper you’ve read in a particular subject area, find some more and skim them. Introductions and conclusions are key.) Compare and contrast. Are the arguments consistent, contradictory, orthogonal?
    3. Use Google Scholar, the Social Sciences Citation Index, publisher web pages, and other resources to find articles that cite the article you’re reading. See what they say about it. See if it’s mentioned on blogs, groups, etc.
    4. Check out a reference work, e.g. a survey article from the Journal of Economic Literature, a Handbook or Encyclopedia article, or a similar source, to see how this article fits in the broader context of its subject area.
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3 Comments »

  1. […] of academia, I thought this primer on how to read an academic article was useful.  We were taught something similar at university.  […]

  2. Robbie said

    What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how regarding unpredicted feelings.

  3. Amber said

    I am now not sure the place you’re getting your information, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time finding out much more or understanding more.
    Thank you for wonderful info I used to be in search of this info
    for my mission.

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