ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Getting inside the mind of an expert management researcher
Your learning through the two-way process of academic discourse
Who do we think you are?
Who do you think your audience is?
What’s distinctive about researching management?
Induction into a western tradition of academic scholarship
What’s your ‘academic comfort zone’, and how could you expand it?
Official expectations that you will develop your critical frame of mind
Expectations check-up
How well does your work match-up to your assessors’ expectations?
Are you a more critical thinker than you realise?
Experiences of thinking critically in your academic work
Helping yourself learn to think like an expert management researcher
Comparing lists of Dos and Don’ts
Maximising your learning by linking critical reading with self-critical writing
Maximising your learning by linking critical reading with self-critical writing


From the outset of your postgraduate or doctoral studies, or your work as an academic, it is likely that you will be expected critically to read texts selected from the academic literature. Your critical reading effort will soon be directed towards writing for assessment, whether an assignment, a dissertation or thesis, an academic article for publication, or a research funding proposal.

Official expectations reflected in the criteria for assessing your writing may include the requirement that you develop your own argument, critically evaluating the arguments put forward in the literature. Your task is then to make your argument convincing to your assessors. They will become the critical readers of your written account, evaluating your argument about what you have read. So critical reading and writing your account for assessment follow the logic of enquiry, providing you with opportunities consciously to practise learning how to think like an expert management researcher:

  • in your reading as you prepare to write for assessment, you adopt a sceptical stance, evaluating authors' arguments as they bear on your focus
  • in planning your subsequent writing for assessment you work out how to convince your assessors - who wil adopt a sceptical stance towards your work - by developing as strong an argument as you can about what you have read relating to your focus

The authors of the literature you read will have done their best to convince their projected audience. So you can learn from examining, as you read, how they try to do this through the structure and the content of their account. You could note what authors do that: 

  • fails to communicate their argument to you (e.g. their writing style contains lots of very long sentences whose meaning is hard to grasp) 
  • fails to convince you of their argument (e.g. they don’t back up their claims with any evidence that would make you ready to accept them)
  • communicates their argument well to you (e.g. they set their argument out in a logical sequence of short sentences that helps you understand each step of their logic)
  • convinces you of their argument (e.g. they offer plenty of strong enough evidence to back up their claims)

Consciously noting how authors structure their account and what does or doesn’t communicate well or convince you can be a source of ideas: about what you should avoid doing and what you should try to do in structuring your own writing. This is an easy way for you to accelerate your learning to think like an experienced management researcher - throughout your academic studies.

How, then, does your critical reading link with your academic writing for assessment? Here is an exercise which encourages you to make a strong link between developing a critical approach in your academic reading and developing a self-critical approach to your academic writing. Whatever you are looking for as a critical reader of the literature, your assessors - as critical readers of your work - may also be seeking in what you write for assessment. The elements of self-critical writing relate to meeting your readers’ needs, so they can understand what you’re trying to communicate. Equally, these elements help you to make your argument convincing to your readers.

The exercise is based on matching each element of critical reading with its corresponding element of self-critical writing. Try completing it now.


Linking your Critical Reading with your Self-Critical Writing

 

1. Tick each element of critical reading in the list that you habitually use when reading academic literature.

2. Tick each element of self-critical writing that you habitually use in your academic writing.

3. Add up the number of ticks for each column.

As a critical reader of academic literature, I:

Tick

As a self-critical writer of assessed work, I:

Tick

 

 

 

 

  • consider the authors’ purpose in writing the account

 

 

  • state my purpose in what I write to make it clear to my readers

 

  • examine the structure of the account to help me understand how the authors develop their argument

 

  • create a logical structure for my account that assists me with developing my argument, and makes it clear to my readers

 

 

  • seek to identify the main claims the authors make in putting forward their argument

 

 

  • state my own main claims clearly to help my readers understand my argument

 

  • adopt a sceptical stance towards the authors’ claims, checking whether they support convincingly what they assert

 

  • assume that my readers adopt a sceptical stance to my work, so I must convince them by supporting my claims as far as possible

 

 

  • question whether the authors have sufficient backing for the generalisations they make

 

 

  • avoid making sweeping generalisations in my writing which I cannot justify to my readers

 

  • check what the authors mean by key terms in the account and whether they use these terms consistently

 

  • define the key terms I employ in my account so that my readers are clear what I mean and use these terms consistently

 

 

  • consider whether and how any values guiding the authors’ work may affect what they claim

 

 

  • make explicit any values that guide what I write

 

  • distinguish between respecting the authors as people and being sceptical about what they write

 

 

  • avoid attacking authors as people but am sceptical about what they write

 

  • keep an open mind, retaining a conditional willingness to be convinced

 

  • assume that my readers are open-minded about my work and are willing to be convinced if I can adequately support my claims

 

 

  • check that everything the authors have written is relevant to their purpose in writing the account and the argument they develop

 

 

  • sustain my focus throughout my account, and avoid irrelevancies and digressions in what I write

 

  • expect to be given the information that is needed for me to be in a position to check any other literature sources to which the authors refer

 

 

  • ensure that my referencing in the text and the reference list is complete and accurate so that my readers are in a position to check my sources

 

Total number of ticks

 

Total number of ticks

 

To download and use this document – click  here 

The more ticks you have for elements of both critical reading and self-critical writing, the more you habitually think like an expert management researcher in the way you approach your academic reading and writing. Here are some points for you to reflect on: 

  • Think about the importance of each element, whether you have ticked it or not. This exercise gives no indication whether every element has equal importance or not. Which elements that you have ticked do think are most important? You can feel some confidence that you have learned how to use them. 
  • Consider each element that you have not ticked. Do you think that this element is important and so would be worthwhile learning to use in your academic work? If so, how might you consciously try to integrate it into your work in future?
  • Examine the balance between the number of ticks for critical reading and for self-critical writing. Are you a more critical reader than you are a self-critical writer? Or are you a relatively uncritical reader but a very self-critical writer? Does it matter? If so, how might you try to apply the same approach to your writing for assessment as you do to your critical reading of academic literature?
  • During your studies or academic research you may find it helpful to look back at this exercise from time to time. It would offer you a simply way of monitoring your progress in developing your capacity to read critically and to write self-critically.

This exercise is based on Wallace and Wray (2011), whose details are described in the resources section. Chapter 1 of this book explains what it means to be constructively critical and discusses how you can pick up ideas on structure and style from your reading and apply the best of them to your academic writing.