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London Metropolitan University

Preparing for your coursework: Reading for understanding and writing

Preparing for your coursework

Reading for understanding and writing

The anatomy of an article
There is no one way of reading an article. It is not necessary to read an article in order and you may not need to read the entire article or every section. Your approach will depend on what you are trying to achieve and what type of article you are reading.
Title The function of the title is to clearly indicate the subject and arouse interest. The title usually appears before the abstract.
Abstract This appears at the beginning of the article and is a short summary of the article. It highlights the main aims and focus, key points or key findings and conclusions of the article. Science, social sciences, and business journal articles usually have abstracts. Humanities and arts journal articles may not.
Introduction The introduction explains the article’s purpose or thesis ‘statement’. It contains the background to the topic being studied; For Scientific and social sciences the introduction gives the reasoning for why the study is being done. It may give an overview of what is currently known about the topic (e.g., a literature review). Humanities and Arts articles may have a very long introduction.
Main body This is often divided into subsections
Sciences, social sciences, business
Methods: For example, how the authors did the research / conducted the study or experiment / collected the data.

Results: What did the authors find. Presentation of data. This section often includes charts, tables and graphs.

Discussion: Analysis of the data, how the findings relate to existing knowledge or topic. Evaluation of the results/findings ad whether these answered the authors' research question. 

Conclusion: 'What do the results mean'. How the research ' study adds to the existing knowledge. What further research could take place.
Humanities, arts, some business
Within the Arts and Humanities articles will read more like essays, and there is no standard format. Authors make logical arguments based on the evidence they have; often this comes from texts (books, primary source documents - the original documents, artwork etc.
Discussion: May run through the entire article.
Conclusion: May not be separate as in the sciences.   
References /works cited List of resources (articles, books, journals, etc.) that authors consulted when developing their research. List of resources used by the author(s)

Strategies for reading and understanding an article

1. Skim
Quickly scan the article. This gives you a general idea (the big picture) about the article or paper.
  • Read the title, any keywords given and the abstract.
  • Focus on headings and subheadings.
  • Note the published date; for some areas current research is more relavant.
  • Look for keywords, read the paragraph surrounding a keyword. 
  • Note any terms you don't understand and look up (for example do a Google search, look up the terms in an online dictionary).
Do this to determine whether this article will be useful  to you for your coursework, dissertation or project. It  may be enough tto read the title and abstract to determine if the article is useful or you may need to delve a little deeper. Do this to get the gist of the article.
Articles in the Humanities and Arts often do not have clear sections; making it difficult to skim.
Read the first couple of paragraphs. The author(s) should introduce what the article is about. Think about how this is realted to your needs.
Glance through the article. Read the first sentence of most paragraphs.
2. Re-read
This lets you grasp the article's or paper's contents. This is where you look at the parts of the article that relate to your courswork, dissertation or project in more depth.
  • Look for the key concepts
  • For Humanities and Arts if you see anything relevant read the whole paragraph and those surrounding it. Read the last page or two of the article. The author(s) will sum up the main points and conclusions.
3. Interpret
Reading in depth. This is where you read the entire article or relevant parts of the article in detail.
  • Look at graphs and tables if given.
  • Read the results and discussion - look for the key issues and findings.
  • Make sure you have distinguished the main points.
4. Summarise
  • Take notes; it improves your reading comprehension and helps you remember the key points.
  • If you are reading the printed version  - highlight the main/ key points on your copy.
  • If you are reading the online version - make use of 'markers' and comments.
Quick strategies for reading an article
 Want to know…?
 Read the ...
 the general picture?
 abstract / subheadings
 the background to the topic?
 previous related research?
 introduction / literature review
 what is currently known about a particular topic
 introduction / literature review
 how was the research or study was conducted?
 method / methodology
 the main arguments or themes?
 subheadings / the first sentence of each   paragraph
 the main findings?
 the results
 the significance of the main findings?
 the discussion / conclusion
 future research?
 the conclusion
 what was cited?
 the references