Power Reading for Graduate Students

Power Reading for Graduate Students

The amount and quality of reading materials for students increases greatly in the doctoral program.  And, as the successful doctoral student will soon find, reading in graduate school is not the same as reading a novel.  Different skills are needed to navigate the peer-reviewed articles required in most classes and to prepare a dissertation.  Reading for success in doctoral work needs to be directed, critical, and documented.

Read with direction: Reading in graduate school is more like a treasure hunt than a carefree exploratory ramble.  As a graduate student, I learned to read research articles or other technical materials with a specific goal in mind. I needed a source to support my argument or answer my questions.  As I read, I was constantly considering my needs as a scholar.  Finding something useful was like finding a little treasure twinkling up from the text.

Read critically (a: Begin by reading the abstract or executive summary, where you will find many details related to the article or other technical material.  Distinguish immediately if you are reading a research article (characterized by the presence of empirical data), a literature review (very useful as many articles will be analyzed in one source), a theoretical discussion (where ideas are explored), an article that explains application of theory to practice, or a white paper justifying an organizational analysis or decision.

Read critically (b: Readers will find either a qualitative or quantitative research approach applied in an empirical research article. Quantitative research developed before qualitative research and originated in the fields of natural science where observers could witness and count aspects of concrete objects, events, and processes. Other observers could complete the same measurements and report similar or the same numbers.  As a result, quantitative research findings were regarded as highly objective and free from bias. Quantitative research has many designs, but some of the most common are: experimental, quasi-experimental, and correlation.

Qualitative research is about words or pictures rather than numbers. Qualitative researchers believe that we think in stories and narratives rather than in neatly organized and pigeonholed facts or figures. Some qualitative researchers suggest that human thought occurs most easily in narratives where we organize our experiences meaningfully. Narratives can store and communicate greater amounts of information than quantitative measures alone. The four most widely recognized qualitative designs are phenomenological, ethnography, case study, and grounded theory. Each research method has specific vocabulary.  Look for and identify the research method (quantitative or qualitative) as you read,

 Document your reading:  Keep track of critical details as you read the many articles that will be required for constructing a dissertation or research article.  Consider using a matrix to record the most important facts.  Note the kind of article and the research approach if appropriate.  Put in a few words about the value to your study.   Document the page number if you like a direct quote from the article.  Your analysis of literature will be much easier and more complete if you can consult a matrix or file to identify the kind of study and most important findings in the context of your work.

I had a life long commitment to reading for pleasure before beginning advanced study.  I spent many happy hours curled up with a mystery or other stories.  I found reading for graduate work is a different proposition with a different kind of reward.  I am hoping these brief notes are helpful.  Thank you in advance for any comments or thoughts.