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SOCW 5395 Integrative Seminar: Tips & Tricks

Tools & Templates

Tricks for Reading (and actually remembering) Academic Articles

Read in 3 passes

Pass 1

Get a sense of the framework and major conclusions; underline unfamiliar words, methods, and concepts; evaluate the quality of the study

  • Skim through
    • Abstract
    • Intro
    • Section headings
    • Tables, diagrams, & captions
    • Conclusion
  • Ask
    • What is the thesis of the paper?
    • What are the main arguments?
    • Why is this paper important?
    • How does it contribute to the field?
    • What questions do I still have about the study or its findings?
  • Summarize – 1-2 sentences what the paper is about

Pass 2

Scan the full text of the article, getting a better sense of the research conducted

  • Pay closer attention to beginning and ending of each section
  • Pay attention to highlighted sections from first pass and look up elements you’re not familiar with
  • Answer all questions you had about the paper

Pass 3

Reflect on and analyze the paper (this analysis can often be used in your own paper)

  • Take another look at
    • Arguments
    • Evidence
    • Conclusions
    • Methodology
  • Take notes in your own words
  • Answer
    • Did the authors do what they set out to do?
    • Are their methods sound?
    • Are their arguments logical?
    • What assumptions did they make?

Use this template as you read through scholarly articles to help you pick out the relevant elements for your paper.

Summarizing vs. Synthesizing

While a summary is a way of concisely relating important themes and elements from a larger work or works in a condensed form, a synthesis takes the information from a variety of works and combines them together to create something new.


"Synthesis is similar to putting a puzzle together—piecing together information to create a whole. The outcome of this synthesis might be numeric, such as in an overall rating perhaps best typified in a quantitative weight and sum strategy, or through the use of meta-analysis, or the synthesis might be textual, such as in an analytic conclusion."

Basic steps for synthesizing information:

  1. Highlight the main themes/ideas of each article
  2. Note which themes and ideas appear across multiple articles
  3. Discuss how each article deals similarly or differently with each theme
  4. Discuss how combining the information from all three articles can better address your research question than a single article alone
  5. Write your deductions from combining this information in your own words using all three articles 


Synthesis. (2005). In Mathison, S. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950558

More on Synthesizing Information

Research Paper Outline

After you have found all of your relevant sources, you can now create a research paper outline. Here is a helpful resource from Algonquin College to assist you with creating an outline. 

Research Paper Outline Guide 

Search Tips

1. Don't search as a single phrase - instead, break your topic up into main concepts and place each concept on its own search line, separated by AND

Search Methods Demonstration: Image I

2. Not finding enough sources? Think of synonyms for each of your concepts and combine them with ORS

Search Methods Demonstration: Image II

3. Use truncations to include multiple variations of a word, i.e. persist* (includes persist, persistence, and persistent)

Search Methods Demonstration: Image III

4. Use the Peer Reviewed or Scholarly Articles limiters in your search results

Search Methods Demonstration: Image IV