5 Most Effective Ways to Read Journal Articles

Journal articles make up a big part of a student’s research process whether it’s for a literary analysis or a paper on scientific research. Reading these documents is a skill that isn't taught explicitly by teachers but is certainly expected to be done well. If ineffectively done, the process can take hours and you’d still retain nothing. Here are five steps anyone can implement to cut down reading time and simultaneously obtain the most out of an article the next time you have a terribly long journal to read.

#1.  Write down what you know


Perhaps you already know the historical context of the topic, or you have opinions and arguments for or against the topic of the article. Listing out what you already know opens up questions if there are gaps in your research or if you need more support for your argument. This helps establish the aim of reading the article so that by the end, you’ll know what else you need to research on.

#2. Skim & scan


Look for the author’s main points, themes, and perspectives regarding the topic in the title. This saves time in case the content of the article does not fulfill the aim of reading established in Step #1. Understanding how the author has structured the article allows you to go straight into a section that’s most important in your research. This step is most important if your article does not contain subheadings to separate different parts of the article.

#3. Structure your notes & create a research log


Format your notes as shown below based on the article’s main points that you’ve established in Step #2. Compartmentalising and categorising the information you’re reading makes it easier to understand, link, and expand on points in your argument. A research log helps you keep track of all the sources of your findings in a list for quick referencing once you write your final paper. You can easily create a research log by inserting a table into Microsoft Word or Google Docs. 

In this example of a research on the novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the title of the journal and the authors’ names are logged. The points from the article are divided into the genre, main character, and theme of the book. Pages and paragraphs of quotes for each of these points are also listed. Depending on the requirements of your assignment, it may also be important to take note of the publication information.

#4. Read the article & take notes simultaneously


It would be a good idea to split your screen between the article and your notes. Although it’s tempting to over-highlight and take down a lot of quotes, this will not be effective in helping you retain as much from the article as possible. Don’t forget to note the page numbers and paragraphs of the different quotes into your research log. Focus on finding lines that are easy to remember but also explains the argument the author is trying to convey clearly. This way, you’ll be able to use this quote as a trigger to start your own argument that could either further support your point or completely rebut the author’s views. 

To get a better understanding of what critics and academics are saying regarding a topic across time periods, note down the examples, resources, and findings that journal articles respond to. This allows for a more holistic and developed research that will undoubtedly help you with your own take on the topic.

#5. Read as many articles from different viewpoints


Besides reading articles of critics from various time periods and of the same perspective, find journals that provide different angles to the topic. Exposing yourself to ideas and opinions helps you strengthen your own as you have to decide whether you agree or disagree with what you’re reading. It’s crucial not to passively take down the main points of the article without actively responding to the arguments presented. You must take a stance and decide what your views are and whether this author’s opinion is relevant in supporting it. By familiarising yourself with the various critics’ arguments, you’d definitely be prepared for any question the assignments can throw your way. 

To maximise your time reading an article, you don’t have to read every single line from the very top. Choose the sections that will benefit your research specifically and be efficient when taking notes. This guideline will help when feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of a 30-page document, especially if you haven’t read journals before. Once you’ve done a few articles, you will find your way of reading and retaining information that fits your learning style best. Good luck!

Nalita Fairuz Kusnandar is currently pursuing A-Levels at Taylor's College. She is also part of Taylor's Model United Nations Club (TLMUN).

Need more contents to keep you mused? Sign up to be part of The Risers community!