Get ready to read research papers effectively
If you’re going to be reviewing and analysing lots of research papers, you need a plan. To know what to read and when to stop, to collect the evidence and ensure you understand.
Critical reading is the skill used by researchers to better comprehend and evaluate literature. It requires structure and the right tools to help you to stay focussed on interpreting, questioning and critiquing what you read.
How to critically read a research paper
Here’s the fundamentals and what you need to master critical reading:
Plan your investigation, before you begin reading
Start by defining your investigation questions and create a template to record evidence, what you understand and the pros and cons of the sections that are important.
3 things to include:
- What do you need to know about the paper to understand the goals and context of their research?
- What evidence are you looking for from the research paper, based on what you want to do with the information or the purpose of your review?
- What questions will you ask to assess the claims and document the strengths and weaknesses?
It is also a good idea to organise your questions and apply cut off points, so you know when to stop reading. For example if you are not seeing anything new or if you identify a fallacy early on you need to decide whether it is worth spending any more time on the paper. However far you get, record what you find as everything you read provides insight.
What you will need: A template to record evidence and your critique consistently
Decide where to begin - problem, goal, methodology
If you know what you want to examine, you need to figure out where to look, so you don’t have to read every word to extract what’s important. Use the structure of the paper and skim read sections or use AI to help you to find information of interest.
What you will need: A strategy to find and collate specific information to review
Systematically find, read and question the information
So now you know what you are looking for and where to look, it’s time to start reading. It’s likely you will read important sections of a paper more than once. Firstly to ensure you understand and comprehend what the information is telling you, before you go on to analyse and question what is being said. Each time, actively think about what you want to know and the questions that you are trying to answer.
For example if you are reading to comprehend, question whether you understand the concepts, theory or terminology that is being used. Lookup things you don’t know, to avoid misinterpreting what you read.
What you will need: Highlight and note taking tools to help recall important information
Interpret and critique what you found
Test your comprehension and use the template you created to write up your findings straight after reading or analysing sections of the paper. Begin with your understanding of the research, followed by your analysis of the findings. Remember, you are evaluating this from the perspective of what the author wants to achieve before evaluating the pros and cons in relation to what you already know.
Reading, questioning and writing up your findings can be intense, but it will help you to stay focussed, help you to remember the insights and enable you to compare findings as you read more and more papers.
What you will need: Your critique template and the ability to link information as you find connections
This is what you will need to help you to critically read:
- A template to record evidence and your critique consistently
- A way to find and collate specific information to review
- Highlight and note taking tools to help recall important information
- The ability to link information as you find connections
RAx provides the tools to help researchers to critically read