As experienced researchers, we take for granted the format of journal articles. Our brains anticipate exactly what’s ahead. Introduction, aims, lit review, methods. . . no surprises. Yet, new researchers experience an article quite differently. Several years ago, a conversation among first-year students revealed their frustration.
One student confessed, “I just looked for stuff I kind of know already and hoped I could figure out the rest.”
Another chimed in, “Yeah. And I had no clue what a lot of the stuff even means.”
A third asked, “How do you read all this stuff, Dr. Kerr?”
That question changed the way I teach students to read the literature. Here’s how we approach it now.
- Unpack an article together. We begin by choosing a journal article about a topic that students will enjoy. For example, College students’ stress and coping is a favorite for a general psychology research methods class. For students working on our team, we select one of our own publications to familiarize them with the project. Next, we create a worksheet that students complete in pairs. If you would like a template, just contact us!
- Explain the publication process. Students work in an unfamiliar world of scholarship, tenure, publishing, and peer-review. Too often, we fail to share how a paper becomes a publication, yet this is an essential process for all researchers. I find that students really enjoy uncovering “the back story” of submitting a paper, responding to reviews, and getting cited.
- Uncover the story behind an article. Students like being detectives. Here are some discussion starters to use with the “unpacked” article.
- Who did this author cite? Why do you think they cited those authors? Why does citing matter?
- How do you find out how often an article is cited? Why is that important to the author?
- What is a review? Who are the reviewers for this journal? How do you think they were chosen? Let’s take a look at their citations in Google Scholar. How long did it take for the authors to have their paper accepted? Why?
Sharing the back story of how a manuscript becomes a publication can engage students more deeply in reading the literature.