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Reading Academic Articles for Class

Creating strategies for reading academic material will help you organize your thoughts for class participation, writing for assignments, as well as conducting your own research. Each class might require you to adapt your reading strategies and it’s usually a good idea to take notes and annotate your readings in a way that makes sense for you and the particular class you’re reading for. 

Determining your Goals and Plan of Action

Asking yourself some questions before reading will help you focus on what is important from your reading. The first question you can ask yourself is: Who is the intended audience for this reading? Is it specific to a certain academic field? This could influence the author's writing style and word choice. You can also ask: what genre is this text? For example, is it a journal article? A chapter in an edited collection? An opinion article? Thinking about genre might also change the way that you prioritize information while reading.  

It may also be helpful to think about why the professor assigned this reading. How can this reading be used in class discussion based on the topics of the course/unit?  

Answering these types of questions before you begin reading can help you create a plan of action. For instance, reading an academic journal article is likely to require more time and different strategies than reading a short opinion piece written for a broader audience.   


One helpful strategy for reading texts is Skimming. Skimming is reading quickly while searching for keywords and scanning different sections of the text based on your goals. This allows you to do multiple things, such as gather information quickly, find answers to certain questions, and focus your attention on specific information. It is good to skim when you are asked to focus on one element of a text. When skimming, it is helpful to mark important information you find, and where you find it. This will help when you return to the text to look for more detailed and nuanced information.  

After skimming, a second helpful strategy is to start by reading the abstract, introduction, and then the conclusion before moving on to the other sections of a text.  This helps you focus on the main arguments, questions, and conclusions of a text. Read more below to learn what information these sections can have for you.  

Reading the Title and Abstract 

The title should have important key terms, and the abstract presents a little more context as well as some main points and findings. Make a note of important terms and phrases. Because abstracts are densely written and talk about the main points of a text, it is worth researching or looking for definitions of terms that are mentioned in this abstract that you do not know in the body of the text.  

Reading the Introduction 

Read the introduction, looking for information about the purpose of the article and its main questions and arguments. This is a good time to take some notes and annotate the central point(s) of the text. 

Reading the Body 

The body of the article is where reading an article may become more challenging. As you move through articles, summarize sections or paragraphs using your own words and vocabulary if they are particularly dense. Make annotations or notes that correspond to the section you are reading. Your notes can be as little as a few words or a phrase. Keeping it short will help you synthesize information. The first and last sentences of paragraphs should provide main information. Try to make note of how these smaller sub-ideas and points connect to the main argument. Depending on your own goals and the goals of the class, you may not need to engage deeply with every single word in the body. If you’re new to reading academic texts, focusing on understanding and being able to summarize the main ideas and arguments are great places to focus on.  

Reading the Conclusion 

Conclusions are important and may expand on the main arguments or ideas of the text. Make note of any limitations, calls for future research, or ways that you think the work might be expanded. 



This content was adapted by Marissa Burke from Brandeis University’s Academic Servies webpage on “Tips for Reading Scholarly and Journal Articles” and the George Mason University Writing Center document on “Strategies for Reading Academic Articles” 

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