Do you start reading an academic journal article, plough through a few paragraphs and realise you have lost your focus? Try this technique to gain a quick overview and identify the sections you need to read in depth.
1 Reading order
Read the abstract to check the article is relevant to your topic. Then scan the introduction and the conclusion. You will see what the article covers and the author’s main findings. Afterwards, go to the most relevant sections and read them carefully.
2 Scan for main points
To find out what the writer is arguing, search for the topic sentence in each paragraph—where they make their point. This is often the first sentence. It’s also useful to read the final sentence, where they conclude the point. Make a note of what the author is saying in your own words.
Then, once you have scanned a section of the article, read through your notes. You should be able to follow the line of argument. My note for the above paragraph might be:
To find the main points, look for the topic sentence and final sentence in each paragraph and note what the author says.
3 Read in-depth
Once you’ve identified the most relevant sections, read them to gain a general understanding. Read again and note down questions or ideas that occur to you. Now evaluate the article against others you have read on the topic. Does this author agree or disagree with them? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their argument? Think about how you can use this source for your assignment.
16 December 2021
 Based on original research by Trevor Day: https://rlfconsultants.com/how-to-read-a-scientific-research-paper and the Effective Reading Model, developed by Cath Senker, Dr Chris Brown and Ruth Bowles, University of Sussex – see https://activelearningnetwork.com/2018/09/03/effective-reading/
Developing a critical mindset involves drawing on qualities including confidence, motivation, curiosity and effort.
Engage with your reading more deeply by using this 40-minute read-think-write method. It will save you time too.
Keep a list of critical prompts to help you to adopt a questioning attitude.