Baffled by dense academic writing? Start here!Published by Mark Bodnar
Has this ever happened to you?
You get an assignment to write a term paper,
... then you spend lots of time coming up with a good topic (not too hard, not too boring...),
... then you gather some academic/scholarly/peer-reviewed articles on that topic (ideally you do so efficiently -- perhaps by chatting with a librarian before you become too frustrated!),
... then you sit down to read the articles, distill them into your own words, compare, contrast, and critique them,
Except... you then discover that you really have no idea what the articles are talking about! Oh, you can read the words, but you get lost somewhere amidst the subject jargon and the statistical explanations.
Academics have to be extremely precise in their langauge so other researchers can review, replicate, and extend their work, but that precision can seem like another language to those who are new to such things. We librarians spend so much time helping students find good information that we sometimes forget there are still more hurdles to get over once you walk away with articles in hand. No more!
Step 1: Know that you are not alone!
You made it to university. You deserve to be here. You CAN read academic-ese! Just treat this as yet another skill (like researching efficiently or writing coherently) that you are going to need to focus on and learn during your time in school. You aren't just here for subject knowledge.
Step 2: Seek out some resources.
Other people have encountered similar problems. Surely they have left behind tips to help new adventurers who wander down the same path? Of course! Read on for a few of our favourite places to find advice...
- Start with the many Reading Resources listed on our Student Learning Commons page. The SLC experts link to many resources that will help you read papers and textbooks efficiently and effectively.
- Also try the tip sheets at the Journalist's Resource site such as:
- And for those who prefer to learn in a more audiovisual manner... a couple YouTube videos:
Interested in learning more? Consider signing up for a workshop through SFU's Student Learning Commons, part of the SFU Library.