Many people are familiar with the high school “five paragraph essay.” In research, there is often a five section format used: Introduction, Literature Review, Method, Results, Discussion.
This should, obviously, provide a foundation for reading this article.
- A clear statement of the research problem or question. (What, specifically, do these people propose to study?) If this isn't clear, the rest of the material will be garbled.
- Why is this important? (Why bother doing the research or reading about it?)
- What research have others done about this problem (or a similar problem)?
- How might this study link to previous research?
- What gaps exist in literature?
Be clear on the procedures used to gather information. Use this knowledge to check the results and see if these answers could be reasonably derived with the information provided.
- Is the study voluntary for subjects?
- How is the method selected?
- How does the methodology attempt to make your sample representative of a whole population (all college students, or even all students at a particular institution)?
- How were the research methods (surveys, interview questions) tested?
The results can differ widely depending on whether the research is a qualitative or quantitative study.
Qualitative information may be gathered from people, documents, pictures, or other artifacts. We often do not think of document analysis, but as we see in this article, it can be a powerful research tool.
- Is the data analyzed in a systematic fashion?
- What is done to protect the reliability of analysis (in this case, consistency in analysis across researchers)?
Quantitative information may be gathered from surveys, very structured interviews (which may resemble surveys), or other information that can be counted (e.g. number of students, average expenditures, height of buildings). Usually this refers to individuals' responses to surveys or interviews.
--How many people were contacted for the study? Of these, how many chose to participate ("response rate")?
--How was data analyzed ?
--Do we see survey questions?
--How is significance tested? (talk about significance as a specific research term)
Finally, is the research question answered?? If it isn’t addressed, the study has failed.
- Does it connect results back to the research question?
- What directions are suggested for future research?
- Are the conclusions reasonable in light of the results? (This is a BIG reason to read through full articles, rather than just beginning and end.)
Even the bibliography represents the scholarship of this article’s author(s). You may not know the field intimately, but you can glance and get a few ideas quickly...
- Note years on articles. Is everything old?
- Note the names of researchers. Are there just one or two referenced, or is there variety?
- Are the articles research articles, newspaper articles, or other kinds of papers? (This may show how much scrutiny the research underwent before being published.)
- What is the bias of writers/authors? (Are articles funded by groups with pre-existing opinions, such as advocacy organizations or major corporations?)
By Malinda Matney, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate