Questions to Pose for All Scholarly Articles
Any reading you do will challenge you in new, unexpected ways, so you should be open to the directions in which the various articles you read take you. Still, it is helpful to pose a set of questions to the range of readings you will encounter in order to understand the different strategies and forms they make use of. Since ours is a course on research writing in the social sciences, pay special attention to how research questions are formulated in the articles, what claims and conclusions they reach, what data and evidence they use to support their claims, the research methods and strategies of interpretation they employ, the contributions they make, and the critiques that you may have of the possible limitations or inaccuracies in the articles.
1. Claims and Conclusions: What is the main claim that the article is making (thesis)? While an article may make many different claims, identify the main claim in response to what you regard as the article’s research question, what the author has undertaken to probe, study and research. Based on the research findings that lead to the main claim, what additional conclusions does the article reach or attempt to have us consider? What other (intellectual) positions, received wisdom, or popular views does it contest or complicate? Try to limit the additional conclusions to one or two, and state them and the main claim succinctly in your own words in single sentences.
2. Research Question: Even if the article does not identify a particular question it is investigating or trying to answer, after you have seen the research the author has done and identified his/her main claim and conclusions, formulate in question form the main inquiry you think the article is undertaking.
3. Data and Evidence: What kinds of data, evidence, and/or experience does the article rely upon to reach its conclusions? What is noteworthy about the choices? Would the evidence be readily available to all of us, or is it available only in archives or after careful research? Did the data and evidence have to be produced through a research study?
4. Research Methods: What do we know or can we infer about the research methods that the writer has employed? Based on the Research Methods page, name the methods the writer has used. Do the research methods appear simple and straightforward, or are they difficult, ambitious or even expensive? What is most appropriate or creative about them?
5. Interpretation: How does the writer interpret her/his data, evidence and experience? What strategies of interpretation or theoretical frameworks is s/he deploying? Are the strategies of interpretation widely accepted as valid, or do they appear to be unique or even idiosyncratic?
6. Contribution: What, in your judgment, appears to be valuable about the article’s research and conclusions? What new ideas, issues, experiences, etc. are explored and illuminated? How is our understanding of “old” issues or notions productively advanced or challenged?
7. Critique: In what ways is the article limited or deficient (keep in mind that no single article can say everything important about its subject, so you have to evaluate the article based on its own goals and intended scope)? Explain what you are basing your criticism on: perhaps the research question should have been more (or less) complicated; perhaps the evidence appears inaccurate, inadequate or irrelevant; perhaps the research methods could be altered to gather better or different types of data; perhaps you would have interpreted the data the article presents differently, based on a different interpretive framework; etc.