Reading Scholarly Sources

Much of the writing you’ll do in college will involve reading, summarizing, synthesizing, and making arguments from academic sources. Scholarly sources are written by experts in a particular field of study and are peer-reviewed or refereed by experts in the field before publication. Scholarly books are often (but not exclusively) published by university presses (e.g., the University of Illinois Press or Oxford University Press); scholarly articles are often published in journals with disciplinary or professional affiliations (e.g., Journal of Computational Physics or Journal of Management). The University of Illinois Library has more information on how to tell if a source is scholarly and more information on how to read a scholarly article.

After you’ve selected your scholarly source, you’ll need to read it—and reading these academic sources can be challenging at first! Here are some tips for making your reading process efficient and effective.

Analyze the Context

Look at the publication/publisher and the date of publication. What does this say about the audience and the writer’s purpose?

Get a Sense of the Structure and Highlights

Scholarly books and articles often follow a similar format, which means that you can sometimes get a broad sense of the argument by doing the following:

  • Read the abstract (if there is one) carefully.
  • Look over the section and/or chapter headings.
  • Skim the introduction and conclusion (if these are marked) to get a sense of author’s claims.
  • Look over visuals like tables and graphs (if there are any).

Read with Purpose and Annotate the Text

If the reading was assigned for a class, consider your instructor’s reason for assigning it. Use that reason to read purposefully: What subject will the source prepare you to discuss? How does the article fit into the main topic of the course? What will you do with the knowledge you’ve gained from reading?

After you’ve identified your purpose in reading, mark up the texts to record the following for future reference:

  • Main points in the argument, like the thesis, outline of article structure, methods overview, discussion of results, conclusions, etc.
  • Points in the piece that might be relevant to your own interests or research, or points in the piece that seem especially relevant to the class or project you’re reading for.
  • Any reactions you have to the text. Are there parts of the text you find persuasive, that you doubt, or that you don’t understand? Note those for later discussion in class or with a faculty member.

Reflect and Summarize

It can be helpful to make some quick notes about the text to improve your reading comprehension. Here are some possible questions to think about:

  • Who is the author, and what is their purpose?
  • Who is the author’s intended audience?
  • What is the genre of this piece?
  • What is the main claim or thesis of this piece?
  • What type of evidence is being used to support this claim?
  • Who is this author citing?

Adapted from The Norton Field Guide to Writing with Readings by Richard Bullock & Maureen Daly Goggin.

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