Analysing the literature

Reading difficult material

In some disciplines, it can be difficult at first just to read an article and make sense of the words or symbols on the page. Don't despair - it will take time to learn about unfamiliar techniques, equipment or experimental methods associated with your field of research. Some of the vocabulary used in theoretical texts and scientific journals may also be unfamiliar.

Tips for reading difficult material:

  • Start with what is written about your topic in more 'popular' or 'accessible' journals
  • Build up a glossary of unfamiliar terms and definitions used in discussion of your topic
  • Establish a context for the information you will read: read the introduction and conclusion of an article first, and examine the sub-headings and any captions under diagrams, graphs or charts before attempting to read the methods or results sections
  • Skim read the main sections of the article to establish a sense of their scope, purpose and themes before attempting a sentence by sentence reading
  • Return to difficult materials after reading other authors on the topic - extending your understanding through parallel reading will help to make sense of the obscure text.