Guidelines on how to read and analyze a book or a (scientific) article
One of the objectives of this class is to engage you in the primary (scientific) literature. It's always best to go to the source rather then relying on secondary literature (textbook, magazines, or news media), however well intended it may be. Please follow the instructions below for a crash course on how to read and analyze a book or a (scientific) article.
- Part I: Please read the article of Elizabeth Pain published in Science (Marh 16, 2016) on how to (seriously) read a scientific paper. Optionally you may also be interested in the 2014 blog post of Jennifer Raff: How to Read and Understand a Scientific Paper: A Step-by-Step Guide for Non-Scientists.
- Part II: You may also read the Guidelines for analyzing books or article. Applying these guidelines may help you prepare for our class discussions.
The book on How to Read a Book (New York: MFJ books, 1972) authored by M. Adler and C. Van Doren outlines three stages of analytical reading (note that these guidelines apply to reading an article as well):
- Rules for finding what the book is about:
- Classify the book according to kind and subject matter.
- State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity.
- Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
- Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve." (p. 95)
- Come to terms with the author by interpreting his/her key words.
- Grasp the author's leading propositions by dealing with his/her most important sentences.
- Know the author's arguments by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences.
- Determine which of her/his problems the author has solved, and which she/he has not; and as to the latter, decide with the author knew she/he had failed to solve (p. 136).
- General Rules
- Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book (i.e., do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgement, until you can say 'I understand.')
- Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously (i.e., do not disagree simply for the sake of argument.)
- Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons (evidence) for any critical judgment you make.
- Specifc Rules
- Show how the author is uninformed
- Show how the author is misinformed
- Show how the author is illogical
- Show wherein the author's analysis or account is incomplete (p. 164)
Other general guidelines in reading books or articles:
- Are the objectives / aims / goals clearly stated?
- Were the methods used to address the question appropriate / adequate / relevant in light of the stated objectives?
- How are the data presented and what are the units used in Tables and Figures?
- In interpreting the data do the authors rely on strong and relevant citations?
- What assumptions have the authors made in each section of the article (introduction, materials and methods, results and discussion, conclusions or implications)?