Step 3: Text, continued

Once you’ve looked at the text as a whole, use a similar set of steps to understand the organization of each part. By breaking down a text in this way, you’ll be able to locate its key arguments.

Identify signposts

Signposts are the basic structural cues in a piece of writing.

  • Is the reading divided into sections?
  • Are there sub-headings within these sections?
  • How do these elements break down the argument?

The sample in this study totaled 530 adult fantasy sport participants. This sample is composed of both men (n=348) and women (n=182), with the mean age of the sample at 30.1 years. The average age of men was measured at 28.4 years (SD=10.4); for women it was 33.3 years (SD=13.0). The men identified as predominately single (n=165, 47.4%) followed by being married (n=114, 32.8%) while the majority of women identified as being married (n=74, 40.7%) followed by being single (n=51, 28.0%).

General analysis*
In this research, it is important to understand not only the answers to the research questions, but also the data behind the answers. In this case, a backwards regression analysis was conducted to determine what, if any, factors are contributing to the areas of sport knowledge and the fantasy sport motives.

Read topic sentences

In addition to telling you what a paragraph will be about, topic sentences function as miniature arguments.

Scholars know very little about how and why women are motivated to play fantasy sport other than that the traditional gender-based hegemony persists (Davis and Duncan, 2006), but a great deal of information has accumulated related to the role of fantasy sport within the larger sport marketplace. For instance, we know fantasy sport is big business economically ($1.5 billion as of Kassen, 2006) and the people who play often become consumed by it (see St. Amant, 2005; Walker, 2006). Nesbit and King (2010) established a direct link between fantasy sport play and TV viewership and a larger report from…

When reading, try to identify how topic sentences support the larger argument. You can also use them to decide if a paragraph seems important enough to read closely.

Identify signal phrases

Signal phrases are expressions like:

“In this section, I argue…”
“In contrast to author X, who claims Y…”
or words like
“therefore” or “however”

Thus, relational and identity-oriented differences result in clear divisions in the ways men and women consume sports media. However, the first research question is postulated with a specific aim of determining whether such divides hold true in the ancillary but related field of fantasy sport play:
The first research question [RQ] is postulated: Does fantasy sport consumption differ between men and women?

Authors use signal phrases to:

  1. make transitions
  2. point out the relationship between ideas
  3. identify and prioritize the different parts of an argument

Signal phrases are clues the author leaves to identify her most important claims.

Footnotes and endnotes

Even if you’re moving quickly, don’t forget to look at footnotes and endnotes. They contain extra information that can help you.

In some citation styles, footnotes contain all citational information, which helps you to track the author’s use of other texts and find additional sources to look at yourself.

Theoretical views about the import of facts surface, quite frequently in fiction. Marilyn Robinson, in her recent novel, Housekeeping, for instance, invites us to reconsider the weight we have afforded the “facts” in our century.¹ Saul Bellow, too, has his character Henderson comment on the problematics of tangible value in the novel Henderson the Rain King, telling his companion that “reality may be terrible,” but it is, from his point of view, “better than what we’ve got.”²

¹ Marilyn Robinson, Housekeeping (New York: Bantam Books, 1972): 217.
² Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King (New York: Penguin Books, 1965): 105.

Sometimes authors write a longer footnote where they elaborate on ideas that are not important enough to discuss in the body of the text. Therefore, if you’re interested in what the author is saying in the body, check to see if the footnote contains more information.

The three little pigs built their houses out of straw,¹ sticks,² and bricks.³

¹ not to be confused with hay
² or lumber, according to some sources
³ probably fired clay bricks

As you can see (look, a signal phrase!), there is a logic to the organization of academic writing: each section of a well-crafted argument serves a purpose within the larger argument. When reading, use signposts, topic sentences, and internal structures and transitions to determine how each section or paragraph connects to the other pieces of the argument. What does it do for the author’s argument?

*Taken from Ruihley, Brody J. and Andrew C. Billings. “Infiltrating the boys’ club: Motivations for women’s fantasy sport participation.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport, vol. 48, no. 4, 2013, pp. 435-452.