Types of unhelpful articles
Scholarly journals have more than one type of article. They also have some fun stuff similar to magazines that will not help you such as letters to the editor, editorials, book reviews, brief letters, news items, policy papers, perspectives, research highlights, conference proceedings, and job listings. Wow! That’s quite a list. Luckily, there is one clue that will eliminate most of these: the number of pages. If an article is 2 pages or less, it is very unlikely to be a scholarly peer-reviewed academic article.
The endless conversation
How is research a dialogue?
Academic research is a conversation, but different researchers are writing for different reasons. Some authors are writing a direct reply to an earlier author’s work, but more often the author is using older parts of the conversation (articles) to build the basis for new research. Citations are a record of that conversation. Each article is based on the work of other researchers who have published earlier articles. Citing someone’s article is saying, “Hey, great work! You’ve really advanced the field and I want to build on that.” Or, perhaps, “Boo, bad work! Your results are not correctly interpreted here for these reasons...”
Three levels of student involvement with the dialogue
1) Eavesdropping (becoming familiar)
2) Entering (focus research and writing)
3) Engaging (form opinions and prepare to persuade)
[from “Intersections” by Davidson & Crateau, 2000]
That means hundreds of years of research and expertise: the scientific method, knowledge of how to mine raw materials and drill oil, how to refine these and how to make all the finished parts! No one person can make a toaster or write effective research. Even a brilliant researcher like Stephen Hawking builds on the knowledge of those that came before him.