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.
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%).
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.
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”
The first research question [RQ] is postulated: Does fantasy sport consumption differ between men and women?
Authors use signal phrases to:
- make transitions
- point out the relationship between ideas
- 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.
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.
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.