Another skill-building exercise related to information literacy that I will be using in my upcoming thesis writing course is “How to Read a Journal Article.” Students will need to locate several peer-reviewed journal articles on their thesis topics and complete worksheets that contain the following questions:
- What is the complete bibliographic citation for the article?
- What is the hypothesis or research question, and where is it located in the article?
- How does the author use other sources to engage in a dialogue with scholars who have written on the same or a related topic?
- Do any of the other sources referred to in the article look like they will be useful for your research? If so, which ones?
- What is the dependent variable in the argument being presented?
- How has the author operationalized the dependent variable?
- What are the independent variables in the argument being presented?
- How has the author operationalized the independent variables?
- What kinds of data were collected and analyzed? What methods were used?
- What are the conclusions in relation to the hypothesis?
- What message is the author trying to get across about her or his work in relations to that of others?
I developed this worksheet assignment after realizing that many students simply do not know how arguments in scholarly literature are structured. It also gets to Amanda’s point about students defaulting to a Google search after they’ve been told to find and use only high-quality information. While Google Scholar might turn up some peer-review journal articles that relate to whatever topics students are researching, they need to be able to understand the arguments in those articles, which means understanding how the arguments are organized. Most students won’t practice these skills unless they are required to do so.