How much reading should you do?

To identify good research questions, you need to know what questions have already been asked and how other researchers have tried to answer them. To create a research question that will make a new contribution to the literature and keep your field moving forward, you must read extensively on the topic. 

Reading widely and reading often will help you avoid the following mistakes:
❌ Choosing a new topic with too many broad questions
❌ Asking questions that may be beyond the scope of what a few new studies can answer
❌ Asking questions that other researchers may already have already answered


Students, instructors, and researchers working in a specific field will already be exposed to new literature in their line of work. Nevertheless, seeking out articles from similar or different fields will introduce fresh lines of knowledge and help make regular reading a habit that you actively pursue and, thus, are less likely to neglect. 

Students and new researchers should try to spend at least 20–30 minutes per day scanning abstracts and identifying articles to examine in depth. A certain amount of time, such as 1 hour, 3 days a week, can then be set aside for reading those articles. Many researchers read 60–90 minutes each day.

The two challenges you face in keeping up with the literature are
(1) making time to try to find reading material, and
(2) actively committing to reading it!


Finding literature

People who subscribe to journals have an advantage with the first challengeMailed journals arrive regularly (e.g., monthly, quarterly) and can be opened and placed somewhere convenient for reading. Online journal subscribers can sign up for email alerts for databases such as Google and PubMed, and from journal publishers. These e-mails provide titles and links to relevant new articles as they are published online. Using this approach, it is easy to acquire articles by simply clicking on titles of interest and downloading them to your computer or mobile device.

Reading literature

To meet the second challenge of actually reading the articles, it helps to schedule this on your calendar as a regular activity or to make it a daily routine. For example, you can keep PDFs of articles downloaded on your mobile device or a hard copy of the latest journal in your bag. If you take public transport to and from work, you could read articles during your commute. You could also read online on a tablet computer while exercising at the gym or in bed before going to sleep. Consider your own personality and habits when deciding how to read articles.

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Strategies for reading

Deciding which academic articles to read can feel like an intimidating task, particularly if your research interests are in a well-established field. A keyword search in online databases such as EconLit, PsycInfo, PubMed, SCOPUS, and Web of Science may yield hundreds or even thousands of results.