ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Productive reading
Why spend time and effort reading a particular text?
Distinguishing between support and ‘front-line’ literature
How can you identify fit-for-purpose support texts to read in full or selectively?
Advance check: suitable support literature for your identified reading purpose
How can you identify fit-for-purpose front-line texts to read in summary or in depth?
Advance check: suitable front-line literature for your identified reading purpose
Scrutinising the efficiency of your academic reading habits
How efficient are you as a reader in your academic studies?
Reading strategies: scanning, skimming and intensive reading
Taking risks with your reading time and effort
Making the most of your reading time and effort: towards an effective compromise
Scanning a short text for specific information
Skimming long texts
Writing effectively
Arguing convincingly
Mapping your field
Literature reviewing
Reviewing the literature systematically
Developing proposals
How can you identify fit-for-purpose front-line texts to read in summary or in depth? 


Much front-line literature tells you a lot about a little: in-depth engagement focused on a quite narrow area of a management subject or approach to researching. Whereas much support literature tells you a little about a lot: an introduction to broad subjects and methods of research, or summary information about many specific ideas or issues. Therefore, once you get beyond your initial reading in a general way about a new subject and are looking at a specialist area in more detail, it becomes essential to concentrate more on texts from the front-line literature.

It is also important to familiarise yourself with the features, limitations and suitable reading purposes of different types of front-line text. You can use this knowledge to help you to identify those front-line texts that you need to prioritise in order to achieve your reading purpose.

Here is a table showing the four types of text from the front-line literature that you are likely to meet. The table indicates some limitations of each type and reading purposes which it can help you achieve.

 

FRONT-LINE LITERATURE (e.g. journal articles, monographs in chapters and in books)

 

Type of text

Common features

Indicative limitations

Indicative purposes that the type is suitable for

Theoretical

·    develops and evaluates models and theories

·    uses them to interpret, explain, challenge or promote practice

·    abstract, so application to practice requires interpretation

·    depends on the contestable meaning of key concepts and associated values

·    main focus on claims about theoretical knowledge with less focus on evidence to back them

·    in-depth learning about particular theories and theoretical debates

·    exploring their implications for research and practice

 

 

 

 

Research

·    reports the findings of systematic enquiries into practice or policy

·    uses findings as evidence to back claims about what does or should happen

·    findings are about particular contexts in the past, so implications for future practice are not automatic

·    findings are shaped by contestable theoretical ideas and values

·    main focus on evidence to back claims about practice or policy, less focus on the theoretical basis

·    in-depth learning about the evidence-base from research underlying claims about what does or should happen

·    expert uses of particular research methods

 

 

 

 

Practice

·    summarises and interprets practitioners’ experience and self-evaluations, or external evaluations of practice

·    uses experience or judgements about observed practice as evidence to back claims about what does or should happen

·    claims are based on practitioners’ or external evaluators’ contestable judgements according to their values

·    claims tend to be uninformed by relevant theory or to use theoretical ideas unsystematically

·    evidence to back claims tends to be less extensive or rigorous than systematic research can be

·    in-depth learning about the evidence-base from successful practitioner experience and self-evaluation

·    exploring the evidence from external evaluations of practice by informed professionals such as inspectors

 

 

 

 

Policy

·    promotes or proposes changes in practice desired by policy-makers

·    uses judgements about past policy impacts and present practice to back the case for policy change

·     claims are based on policymakers’ contestable judgements according to their values

·    claims tend to be uninformed by relevant theory or to use theoretical ideas unsystematically

·    any use of evidence to back claims tends to be less extensive or rigorous than systematic research can be

·    in-depth learning about the content of specific policies and their advocacy according to particular values

·    exploring any evidence-base indicating a need for policy change or that it is likely work, according to its designers’ values

You will notice from the table that each type of front-line text is suitable for reading purposes connected with in-depth study. (These purposes are typically connected with preparing to write for assessment.) You should not be surprised that front-line literature is good for advanced study of specific areas of enquiry. Front-line texts comprise written academic discourse, whose authors are working at the edge of our knowledge and extending its boundaries at the time of writing. 

You should not be surprised either that each type of text has limitations that affect the nature and convincingness of its authors’ claims to knowledge. The greater the depth of study, the more restricted the breadth of a subject that can be covered. And the more advanced and specialised the area of enquiry, the harder front-line texts can be for novice researchers to read until they become familiar with the academic discourse employed. Engaging with front-line texts means a big investment of your time and effort. Therefore, before you start reading one, it is worth asking yourself: 

  • How directly related is this front-line text to my reading purpose and what I’m hoping to learn from my in-depth reading?