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Analyzing disciplinary expectations

Download a PDF of this resource here.

Learn more about how to use the disciplinary analysis toolkit for graduate students on the SASS YouTube page.

Analyzing disciplinary expectations

Step 1: Skim reading

  • Skim through the paper in 3‐4 minutes. That means finding (but not reading) major sections like the introduction and conclusion, headings, where references come, etc.
  • Then, quickly read the introduction and conclusion to roughly identify the topic of the  paper. Don’t stop to use a dictionary, re‐read complicated sections, or try to read every word.

Step 2: Analyzing structure

  • What is the paper’s main argument or contribution to the discipline (or thesis  statement, if you can find one)? Where is this argument/contribution stated? How often  is it repeated?
  • If there are headings, what are the heading titles (e.g. “Introduction,” “Conclusion,”  “Results,” “Discussion” etc.)? Approximately how long is each section as a percentage of  the article?
    1. _____________________________  % of length: ______
    2. _____________________________  % of length: ______
    3. _____________________________  % of length: ______
    4. _____________________________  % of length: ______
    5. _____________________________  % of length: ______
    6. _____________________________  % of length: ______
  • How does the writer signal the start of a new section? Do they use discursive markers such as “to conclude…,” “first, second, third…,” “however,…” etc.? (Find a useful list of these here.) This is especially useful to consider if there are no headings.
    • Example signal phrases for section openings: ___________________________________________
  • Does every section or part of the article contain an equal number of references? Do some sections include many or very few references?
    • Yes͕ referenced are used equally throughout.
    • No, references are used more in certain sections than others.
      • Sections with many references: ________________
      • Sections with few references: _________________

Step 3: Assessing argumentation

  • Does the writer highlight similar studies, related articles or books, or other scholarship  in the area? If so, where?
  • Does the writer state exceptions or limitations to their argument? If so, in which sections?
  • Does the writer state plans for future research?
  • How often does the writer make claims—conclusions based on their argument—and how often does the writer use evidence to back up those claims?
  • What kinds of evidence does the writer use to support their ideas?
    • Books
    • Articles
    • Government reports
    • Statistics
    • Experimental data
    • Theories
    • Other
  • How is the evidence presented?
    • Writing description
    • Graphs/charts
    • Tables
    • Appendix
    • Mathematical calculations
  • How much evidence is included? Is it in every paragraph?
  • Does the writer explain the evidence, or leave it in a long list (or e.g., include graphs without any commentary)?
  • What style of referencing is used? (If you don’t know the proper name, write an example).
    • Chicago
    • MLA
    • APA
    • IEEE
    • Other
  • Is there a references or bibliography list? What is its title, and what material does it include?

Step 4: Understanding style

  • Does the writer use a large amount of technical vocabulary that only experts would understand?
  • Aside from technical terms, is the language so complex that a regular reader (a smart undergraduate student) wouldn’t understand it?
  • How long are the paragraphs? How long are the sentences?
  • Does the writer use “I,” “we,” both, or neither?
  • Does the writer include an engaging opening—a hook, an anecdote or sense of  story?
  • Is the title purely descriptive or does it include some wordplay, sense of mystery, etc.?
    • Descriptive title (e.g. “A study of X in…” or “A history of Y…”)
    • Engaging title