Design, Develop, Create

Monday, 2 October 2017

Reading an article and not sure what to do?

- readings, precis, impact, application -

Prompting questions:
  • What did I learn from reading this article?
  • What was the intention of the authors?
  • Who is the audience for the article?
  • How could I use the article?

Readings are often difficult to understand or alternatively, to interpret and make sense of. I've often read a paper and said to myself "so what", "it's obvious", "what's the appeal of this stuff?" Sometimes I've been confused, overwhelmed with detail or just don't get the point. I've also read papers that have set off ideas, recalled past experiences, given an outlook that changes something I thought I knew well but now see in a different light.

Writing a precis of a paper turns the whole process back on itself somewhat; I go from being the reader of the paper to being a writer. Writing about a paper demands something of me, not just my impression of the paper and the information contained within, but how I felt about the ideas expressed, how I saw them applied, and reflected on their wider impact.

Written comments on a reading need to be succinct (if you go past a page then perhaps you should be writing a new paper?), and impact-full. Get to the point, don't just summarise, criticise! Refer to other works in a meaningful way (counter examples, supporting examples), and reflect on the bigger picture. If there are implications for practitioners and practice then state them, particularly if they are personal, affecting you.

When criticising a paper you should always attempt to be fair. Criticise it on its terms, not because it doesn't address certain areas that you think are more important; there may be good reasons for a paper's omissions: limited space, out of scope, irrelevance.

Finally, keep to the limits, wordcounts shouldn't be treated as "targets". If you can say less then say less; less is often more. It takes time to distill your comments and the result is often unexpected, but often in good ways.

  • Pick out some aspect of interest from the paper
  • Comment on it (there are no wrong answers, it's just an opinion)
  • Link it back to design processes.
  • And consider linking your argument with pertinent external readings.
Try not go off on a tangent or indulge yourself in a flight of fancy. But if the paper sets off your creative side then explain your logic:
"The reading included a discussion of X which made me consider Y (not in the reading) because...".
Relate it back to the course; to continue:
"...but both X & Y are pertinent to Z which we have seen is a fundamental to the work of analysis, design and development"

Further reading (about irony in that is there?)

  • R. Subramanyam. Art of reading a journal article: Methodically and effectively. Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology : JOMFP, 17(1):65–70, Jan-Apr 2013. (link)
  • E. Pain. How to (seriously) read a scientific paper. Science, March 2016. Available online at (Accessed: 29 November 2017). (link)
  • A. Ruben. How to read a scientific paper. Science, January 2016. Available online at (Accessed: 29 November 2017).