Jun
30

Blog Post: Children’s Processing of Smoking-Related Cues

I’ve been doing research in the psychology department for a while now, so I was pretty familiar with what most of my responsibilities over the summer would be. One of the things that’s really stood out as different, though, is the amount of reading I’ve done this summer compared to previous summers. As it turns out, doing research and getting prepared to write about that research are two different things. So, I thought I would provide a little perspective into how I’ve fared so far reading papers.

Don’t get me wrong – reading (even scientific articles) is awesome, and learning new things is always cool. But if you read one paper, then you’ll find at least another half dozen papers that were mentioned and you suddenly need to read because you want to check the conclusions the authors have drawn from the paper or potentially incorporate those facts into your own writing, so obviously you have to find the cited paper in its entirety. One article to read turns into five, which turns into twenty, and before you know it, you have a word document full of nothing but citations of papers that you should read. It can be a bit daunting, but I like to remind myself it’s also really encouraging that we have such a large volume of information available, most of it online and freely accessible.

Aside from the ever-mounting number of articles that you will feel the need to read, you also have to actively read them. You can skim over a paper in a couple minutes and get the gist of the purpose, the methodology, the results, and the conclusions that the authors draw. But that’s not enough to be able to write about that information yourself. To do that, you have to engage with the literature as you read through it. What information did they include as evidence for why this research is important, and, more importantly, what did they not include? What assumptions do they make throughout the paper? Are the tests that they use valid and reliable? Are their conclusions appropriate based upon the results? How could the experimental design be improved? What other explanations exist for the results that came up? What potential conflicts of interest exist? It’s exhausting, and, as I’ve found, it takes a lot of practice. It’s almost like you’re five again, demanding “why?” after every question repeatedly. You can have faith in the system of peer review when you’re browsing an article for fun, but when you want to really learn, everything is suspect. Training myself to do this consistently is still a work in progress, but when I catch myself drifting and skimming over details, I take a break and sort through data or call participants before turning back to reading articles.

To sum up this cheerful article on developing a persistent need to question everything and refusing to accept information as it is handed to you, I offer this disclaimer: being an active reader is important in any area – science, English, history, a BBC news article. I’m just mostly familiar with it in relation to the sciences, because that’s where most of my coursework, readings, and interests are focused. Sometimes I just want to read for fun, which is (more than) okay. It just means I won’t be reading articles that I will have to write about in that time. However, doing background research thoroughly will prepare me to write a better thesis and make me a better student.

Comments

  1. Hi Cassandra!

    Thanks for the comment! I’ll have to check out Swem’s citation website – it sounds like it might be useful as I continue researching for my thesis!

  2. Cassandra says:

    I also find that when I’m reading for the sciences, it’s easy to get lost in following citation after citation. When just doing your own personal research or even reading for a class, it’s easy to just highlight (or mark in the margins) the key elements of a research article, but when it comes to actually getting involved in the field and incorporating that information into your own research, it takes a far more detailed read. I recently discovered that by using an online citation website (I just use the one available for free through Swem Library), I can ‘tag’ articles for their detailed content and be able to organize them a lot more easily. Not to mention, it should help when it’s time to really write for my thesis.
    I think you’re completely right about having to ask ‘why’ over and over again as you read. It’s exhausting, but in science, it’s been really necessary!