It’s important to read critically.
Critical reading and critical thinking are essential parts of preparing a research proposal. You shouldn’t take everything you read on face value. Instead, you should read it like you would read the work of a critical friend.
Significance of findings
Even work that’s been developed by an expert in a peer-reviewed journal can make a number of assumptions or present evidence that is not as strong as we would like it to be.
This isn’t always because of poor research practices. Often, when we don’t know much about a problem or how to solve it, researchers need to make initial inquiries to set the groundwork for more extensive research. In health and medical research, this is so well documented that a hierarchy of evidence has been developed. Although systematic reviews and clinical trials are considered to be the highest-quality evidence, these types of study are only an option after a great deal of other research has preceded it.
It’s important to be familiar with the research in your discipline so that you can make a reasonable assessment of how significant the findings in the paper truly are.
Strength of the evidence
There can be incentives to oversell the strength of the evidence presented in a paper. When you are reading a paper, ensure that it’s very clear how the research method answered the research question. You should also make a critical assessment about the strength of the evidence that the research method will produce.
It’s always tempting to skip over the methods section and read the research results. That’s ok, but if you’re planning to put the findings to use in your own project, make sure to read it carefully.
Strength of the results
The strength of the results are closely linked to strength of the evidence. Does the answer the paper ends up giving actually answer the question that’s been asked?
Does it follow disciplinary conventions?
Most disciplines have norms, standards and even protocols for developing research projects. While these are not above criticism, they typically reflect years of work and consensus about tried and true research methods.
Does the paper’s methods follow these norms? If not, is there a good reason for the deviation?
What other critical questions could you ask about a research paper? Let your fellow learners know which questions you’ve identified in the comments section.
Explore Paul & Elder’s (2007) Elements of Reasoning and Intellectual Standards for some inspiration.
Paul & Elder (2007) Elements of Reasoning and Intellectual Standards
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