Critical reading skills

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PhD training workshop material on critical reading skills for Edinburgh Napier University research students.

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Critical reading skills

  1. 1. Critical reading skills Dr Hazel Hall Professor of Social Informatics School of Computing http://hazelhall.org http://www.slideshare.net/hazelhall
  2. 2. Purpose of the session Let’s start with a question  Why are you here today?
  3. 3. Reasons to be here     To learn how to evaluate and analyse literature To learn how to read strategically To learn what to do with the output of PhD reading activity To learn how to save time     To network with other PhD students? To have a break from the everyday routine of a PhD student? To be entertained by Hazel? To have a wee snooze?
  4. 4. The use of the term “critical” “Critical” in this context means  “to analyse and evaluate” – for the particular purposes of your PhD work It does not mean  “to identify material that is critical to my PhD”  “to make unkind remarks”
  5. 5. Agenda Main themes to be covered  Evaluation of material prior to studying it in detail  Critical reading  Reading output and the literature reviewing process
  6. 6. EVALUATING MATERIAL PRIOR TO STUDYING IT IN DETAIL
  7. 7. Exercise: rating publications List the criteria that you currently use to rate  Journal and conference publications  Individual journal articles and conference papers  Books  Commercial online databases for literature searching You may list the criteria that apply to all formats, and any that are formatspecific. If you have anything else to say about other formats of “literature”, e.g. web pages and blogs, please also note this for discussion.
  8. 8. Evaluating journal/conference publications Academic  Publisher: who publishes this title - a society; a body (university, museum) a mainstream publisher?  Who is on the editorial board?  Evaluate membership as you would authors (see later)  Review policy: is it a peer-reviewed journal?  Longevity: how long has the title been in existence?  Scope: are there indications of the publication’s’ scope in its title – what do the terms “international” and “review” mean?  Indexing: which databases index this title?  Implication – you need to evaluate commercial databases
  9. 9. Evaluating journal/conference publications Professional/trade journals and conferences?  Are any professional/trade journals of importance to your work?
  10. 10. Evaluating individual articles/papers Type of article/paper  Is this a report of empirical research/literature review/domain classic?  Which version is this?  Who funded the study reported in the text? Relevance of the material  What are the main points of the paper, and is it relevant to your work?  In which domain is the work situated?  Is this material still current? What about the references? Presentation of the work  Is it accessible, does it inspire confidence (authority)?
  11. 11. Evaluating books Scope  For PhD work, the scope of a book is very important. This is because in many subject domains research literature is not normally published in book format  Exceptions – the research monograph in arts and humanities, and some social sciences Publisher  Who publishes this title - a society; a body (university, museum) a mainstream publisher? Longevity  Has this work been republished, i.e. in an edition other than the first?
  12. 12. Evaluating commercial online databases Provenance  Who is the supplier? Scope  What is the database’s coverage, e.g. in terms of geography, language?  What is the level of access – basic bibliographic details or full-text? Access  Is there “free” access from the University?
  13. 13. Evaluating authors Stature of authors  Many different types of author: journalists, teaching academics, research-active academics, fellow PhD students, fulltime researchers  Have you heard of them?  Does your supervisor know them?  Where do they work? Academic impact of authors’ work  What is their publication track record?  Is their work of a consistently high standard?  How often is their work cited?
  14. 14. Academic researchers may publish across a range of publications for different reasons Tools that give metrics help distinguish the “best” work and “best” researchers
  15. 15. Not everything published makes it into databases such as Web of Knowledge
  16. 16. Citation indexes help assess the impact of work following publication
  17. 17. Some pieces of work are more highly cited than others!
  18. 18. Google Scholar can be used in a similar way to citations databases Here the rankings broadly reflect those of Web of Science However, Google Scholar is less discriminating in terms of coverage
  19. 19. H-index for authors as measure of productivity and impact
  20. 20. Individual journal titles also provide ranking information Useful for understanding the importance of a piece of work within the domain of study
  21. 21. Altmetrics  Alternative metrics (Altmetrics) becoming increasingly important as indicators of quality  See Altmetrics: achieving and measuring success in communicating research in the digital age  http://hazelhall.org/2013/07/14/altmetrics-achieving-and-measuringsuccess-in-communicating-research-in-the-digital-age
  22. 22. CRITICAL READING
  23. 23. Exercise: critical reading Consider the order in which you read the main elements of the following material  An Ian Rankin Inspector Rebus novel  A bus timetable  The Argos catalogue  An academic paper  A recipe  A court report  Your old school friend’s Christmas newsletter
  24. 24. Critical reading - order The order in which you do something has an impact on its • effectiveness • efficiency
  25. 25. Which order?           Abstract Acknowledgements Conclusions Discussion Introduction Methods References/bibliography Results Section headings Title
  26. 26. Which order?           Abstract – short cut to relevance Acknowledgements – may tell you more about the author Conclusions – short cut to relevance Discussion Introduction – short cut to relevance Methods References/bibliography – short cut to identifying domain Results Section headings Title
  27. 27. Critical reading - attention Some aspects of the material require more attention than others Like making a film, you may need a range of pictures: • “long shots” • “medium shots” • “close-ups” This depends on the purpose of your reading the paper, e.g. • if you are interested in outcomes of an empirical study  focus on methods; • For literature review article  evaluate the scope of the material covered.
  28. 28. Critical reading – what you read Decisions on what to read  Output from literature searches  Recommendations from others  The librarian  Your supervisor  “Recommendations” from citation pearling, RSS feeds, blogs that you follow  Decisions become easier over time as you become familiar with the literature of your domain
  29. 29. Critical reading – handling Time is short – minimise double-handling of material  Read and take notes  Highlight material in the text, or notes in the margin  Take a break, then extract what is genuinely useful  Hand-written linear notes, word-processed notes, or mind maps – but do not copy verbatim  Only go back to the original if absolutely necessary  Learn when enough is enough  Keep a dictionary at hand to help clarify terms, enlarge your vocabulary, learn the discourse of your subject area
  30. 30. Critical reading – the focus When reading academic work you are evaluating the level of argument presented Look out for  Claims/conclusions  Reasons/interpretations of data that lead to the above  Evidence on which above is built  Any qualifications for the claims/conclusions
  31. 31. Critical reading – the focus Illustration  Claims/conclusions  You really should read this novel  Reasons/interpretations of data that lead to the above  The author is fantastic  Evidence on which above is built  She won all these awards  Any qualifications for the claims/conclusions  They are all for crime writing
  32. 32. Checking the level of argument         Do the arguments that the authors put forward make sense? Are the views of the authors consistent with the evidence provided? Is it possible to distinguish fact and opinion? Are there any omissions in this work? Is there ambiguity? Is there bias? How current is the material? How well referenced is the work?
  33. 33. READING OUTPUT AND THE LITERATURE REVIEWING PROCESS
  34. 34. Your review and the focus of your study You need to read critically in order to identify  Deficiencies in the treatment of your subject area, e.g. important issues possibly misunderstood  Gaps in existing knowledge  The context for your work Thus you are able to validate the sense of undertaking your own study in a critique, rather than straightforward report NB the literature review in the final version of your thesis will be a version of the one written at the start of your work – be prepared for revisions!
  35. 35. Literature review Do parallel literatures exist for this topic? In which subject areas has the topic been studied? What are the key concepts in this area? How is this topic approached by others? Who are these “others”? Which discussions? Which aspects of this work are of most relevance to my study? Which subthemes? Which writers? What are the main perspectives on this topic in previous research? Coherent synthesis of past and present research in the domain of study What have been the main research questions? What are the main conclusions on previous research in this area? Where are the gaps in literature? Where is existing knowledge “thin”? What are the key areas of debate in this area? Which work is subject to challenge? Which existing work could be extended?
  36. 36. Literature review Do parallel literatures exist for this topic? In which subject areas has the topic been studied? What are the key concepts in this area? How is this topic approached by others? Who are these “others”? Which discussions? Which aspects of this work are of most relevance to my study? Which subthemes? Which writers? What are the main perspectives on this topic in previous research? Coherent synthesis of past and present research in the domain of study What have been the main research questions? What are the main conclusions on previous research in this area? Where are the gaps in literature? Which existing work could be extended? Where is existing knowledge “thin”? What are the key Exercise to completeWhich work is own time in your areas of debate in this subject to area?an A3 copy of challenge?  Make the map  Using post-its, impose on the structure your assessment of the literature of the domain associated with your study

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