While reading original research may be a challenge for undergraduates, learning to read journal articles can enhance the classroom experience and prepare students of linguistics to better conduct and write up their own research.When we ask undergraduate university students to conduct their own research, we also need to provide them with models and even topics that they will be able to pursue on their own. We have found that working with students to help them to read academic journal articles is an important first step in developing their confidence in doing their own research. A good academic article to begin to teach the reading process is 'He’s like, she’s like: The quotative system in Canadian Youth' by Sali Tagliamonte and Alex D’Arcy.
This article works well because its topic, the current trends in the use of quotatives, is one that is generally interesting to undergraduates. Moreover, it is a clearly organized article that is easy to scaffold. We have found that the same scaffolding principles that we bring to writing a research paper can be brought to the reading of one. Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer at the Center for Educational Resources at Johns Hopkins University, reminds us that while it may be tedious to take class time to teach students how to read an academic journal article, “it will be valuable (for you and for them) to provide some scaffolding and introduce them to these practices.” She says that in some universities, college librarians will do in-class or library workshops to assist students in gaining these reading skills because even skilled readers may need to be reminded that reading an academic research article is not the same as reading a novel, a poem, a newspaper article, or even a textbook.
Working with students to help them to read academic journal articles is an important first step in developing their confidence in doing their own research.
To get started, we begin by looking at the source of the Tagliamonte and D’Arcy article, in this case, Journal of Sociolinguistics, a journal that is useful for our students to get to know. We may even point out the numbers at the top of the article referring to the volume, issue, date, and page numbers. We look at the title and at the names of the researchers and their academic affiliations. We read the abstract and note the keywords: “be like, quotative, youth, grammaticalization” reminding students that keywords help researchers to find other articles on similar topics. The abstract describes the background for the research, mentions earlier research, and explains, in this case, why additional research with a younger age group will expand the understanding of the relationship between age and quotative use beyond that found in earlier research.
We look through the article together noticing the section titles in bold: Introduction, Background, Data and Method, Results, Multivariate Analysis, and Discussion. We notice examples of dialogue that are part of the data gathering and the four figures and tables that visualize and support the interpretation of the results. We discuss the importance of visual materials in presenting research. Reference pages are pointed out both to show students citation style and again how research is a process that builds on itself and how earlier research might be a source for future readings. We do all this before we actually begin reading the full article. In most cases, we only do this once or twice because although we know it takes time out of our class, we find it invaluable. The chart prepared by Frederique Laubepin on reading a social science journal article may be a good tool to link to in your syllabus as a guide to assist students in doing the kind of scaffolding process we are suggesting.
Tagliamonte and D’Arcy end their article: “It will be interesting to see what the next step in this process will be.” We can use this conclusion as an opportunity to remind students that research has no real conclusion; it is ongoing. There are no final answers; it is a process. In relation to this article, some students may find the topic so interesting that they want to read other academic articles on the subject or even replicate the methodology for their own research project.