How to Read an Academic Journal Article

Feature Image for How to Read an Academic Journal Article post. Shows image of a male graduate student reading a table at a table with a cup of black coffee beside him.

How to Read an Academic Journal Article?

It sounds like a straightforward question but it’s one I consistently get from new graduate students. What they’re usually asking is how to read an academic journal article more efficiently and get more out of the time they are spending reading through what is often dense information. Students frequently lament how long it takes them to get through a single journal article only to forget many of the details shortly thereafter. So here are 5 tips I give to make reading journal articles easier and more efficient.

5 Tips for Reading an Academic Journal

1. Always read with a purpose.

There are many reasons you may be reading a particular academic journal article. You might be reading it to fulfill the requirements of a course assignment. You might be reading to expand your knowledge of a subject or synthesize the research in a given area. You could be reading to learn a new method. Alternatively, you might be reading to find a statistic or answer a specific question. Regardless of your goal, identifying your purpose for reading an article will help you to strategically prioritize the information you need to remember. For example, if you are reading to learn a method, you can probably skim or skip entire journal sections and focus only on the method. Similarly, if you are seeking a statistic, you can probably skip the introduction, skim the methods, and focus on the results. However, if you are reading to expand your knowledge, then you’ll need to pay attention to the entire article).

2. Always read the journal abstract.

The abstract is a pre-written summary of what you are about to read in the journal article. This summary creates a mental scaffold that will help you process the rest of the article faster and more efficiently. Reading the abstract first also speeds up information processing when you read the rest of the article, thereby improving information retention.

3. Read the journal article aloud.

My dogs knew a lot about Epidemiology by the time I graduated.

Memory is enhanced by including more sensory input into the experience. Try reading the article out loud, especially for articles that are dense or poorly written (sadly, many of them).

I used to read journal articles out loud to my dogs in a storytelling voice because it made things more fun and I remembered more. They used to get so excited when I got to the **shocking** results section 😜.

4. Substitute the journal article citation.

When you read a lot of journal articles on a topic, it can be challenging to remember which authors wrote what. One way to improve remembering and linking authors to their articles is by substituting the citation periodically. For example, if the authors write “the data was collected by…” then read that as “Smith and Stevens, 2007, collected data by…”. Do this at least once in every section that you read.

5. Write a summary of your thoughts.

At the end of each section you’ve read, pause to write down your thoughts. Write down your opinions and the questions you have about what you are reading and try to draw connections to other journal articles that you’ve read. You don’t need a summary of the article, the abstract does that for you, what you are aiming for is to help your brain process what you’ve read at a deeper level, which will help you increase your understanding and retention of what you have read.

Happy Journal Reading

Those are 5 tips I give my coaching clients to help them improve the efficiency of the journal article reading approach. I hope they help you also.

Wishing You the Best in Your Academic Success,

Dr. Cristie Glasheen, Your Graduate Student Success Coach.
If you’re enjoying this series, sign up to be notified of new posts. Guaranteed never spammy. I hate that crap too.