Thursday, June 30, 2005

Writing Article Reviews

Undergraduate students are often asked to write article reviews because they introduce students to the field and help to develop their critical thinking skills. Some professors have their own specific requirements for the article review, so always refer to those, but I will offer you some general guidelines that will help you get started. .
The purpose of reviewing an article review is to provide your reader with your evaluation of the article along with a brief summary of its argument and reasoning. Organize your paper using a thesis statement, just like in a research paper, but your thesis here will be an evaluation of the article and the reasons for such a positive or negative appraisal. Often, articles have strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to list to your reasons for both. Here are a few questions to help you assess the quality of an article:
  • Is the author a reputable researcher in this field?
  • Are the references used for the study current and reputable?
  • Is the article organized and clearly expressed or is it unnecessarily confusing?
  • Is the author free of bias or charged with emotion?
  • Do the results of the study confirm or disprove what the author expected?
  • Does the conclusion follow the given evidence, or is it somehow unrelated?
  • Why is this article important?
Keep in mind these are merely a few questions you might ask yourself to help you assess the worth of an article. Articles that are based on a research study will offer you many opportunities to question the research methods and sample used. A full citation in the format used in your field (either APA, MLA, etc.) of the article in review should be at the top of your first page.
These tips for writing an article review were gathered from the following links. Check them out for more information.

University of Toronto
Cornell University


Thursday, June 23, 2005

How to write a paper in a week or less

As many of you may have recently discovered, the demands of intersession courses are intense. For instance, it’s not uncommon that you are required to write a paper (or more!) per week. Given that this is the hard reality of taking a short course, how does one survive? Here are a few tips for the time-crunched writer:

  • Start immediately! There is no time to waste during intersession. As soon as the tasks are assigned, get going on them.

  • Whenever possible, write on a topic that you know something about. This way, you don’t waste a lot of time at the research stage figuring out the basics of the topic.

  • Keep the topic narrow and simple (straightforward?). Whenever possible, compare two ideas or authors, not four or five, for instance.

  • Choose less, better resources to write the paper. Chances are that you will not have time to read that stack of 12 books, 9 journal articles, and 3 websites. Go for fewer, more recent (in the last 5 years) academic sources, or sources that your professor tells you are the most influential.

  • In the case where you do need to use several resources to write the paper, read the introductions, chapter summaries, titles, and the first sentence of each paragraph to carefully determine which chapters, sections, or pages to read carefully in order to gain useful information which you can quote, paraphrase, or summarize.

  • Create the bibliography or reference list as you read the texts.

  • As you read, start making an outline (point form) by organizing: your thoughts, the main ideas that reoccur in the texts, and useful quotes or paraphrases. When you are done reading, you will have the skeleton of your paper (it may require some rearranging). Then you can add in the explanations (full sentences) to create paragraphs.

  • Likely you will be writing for several hours at a time. Take an occasional short break. Clear your head and get back to it!

  • Make a plan of attack. While a regular session paper can be planned over weeks, now you need to make a short-term action plan. To reduce that feeling of being rushed, plan for more time than you likely need each day. If you finish early, great! Go on to tomorrow’s task.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Critical Thinking

If you’re like me, you will have at one point or another had questions about what exactly professors mean when they use the word ‘critical’ in different ways. For example, what does it mean to critically evaluate three research articles? What does it mean to be told “Do not simply summarize the sources; think critically about the topic.” How would I write a critical review and how am I supposed to read critically?

Like so many of our other blog topics, critical thinking or critical reading are subjects that involve too much content to properly cover in a short piece. However, hopefully this entry can start you thinking about how you can approach your learning tasks more critically!

Working Definition
To start, I’m going to define “critical” as an approach to an activity, whether it is reading, writing, or something else. Note: the following process is not as specific as the one you would follow if you were taking analyzing an argument for a critical thinking course! Essentially, the approach involves:
--taking the subject of your attention apart
--looking at the pieces from various angles
--then putting them back together with some kind of thoughtful evaluation
It involves stepping outside of how you are used to thinking about something, and putting a different spin to it, shaking it up, revisiting your customary way of viewing it. In short, you are changing the way you consider a subject by allowing yourself to question it and imagining different possibilities. Once you have taken it apart, putting it back together with “thoughtful evaluation” means considering information you have read, gained from class discussions, heard in your lectures, experienced in your life, and most especially learned from your course of study or discipline area, and applying that to the topic.

I recently watched the movie “The Incredibles.” My first response to the movie was, “That was great: it was entertaining and I liked the animation.” But then when I thought about it a bit, I realized that parts of me were annoyed with the movie. I thought, “Why can’t they put make the hero a woman for a change?” Now arguably, there were a few strong female characters in the film (daughter, mom, costume designer), but the plot featured Mr. Incredible.

My first response to the movie was uncritical. I was approaching it from the perspective of one who wants to be entertained. But with my second response, my feminist perspective kicked in. I understood my annoyance from my feminist stance as being left out of the main role once again. If I were to continue to think critically about the movie, I would use that feminist perspective to shape view the pieces I chose to analyze. I might examine how much air time the feminine characters had, what relative importance their actions had to that of the lead, the balance of power in the film (both good guy and bad guy were guys!) etc. And if I were putting the pieces back together, I would make it clear that I was analyzing the movie from a feminist perspective with the aim of illustrating how the movie could have gone one step further in offering fresh perspective to a time honored idea of super heroes.

Next time I will talk about critical reading and provide some links.

I’d love to read comments!

Facione, P. A. (1998). Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. California Academic Press. Retrieved December 2004, 2004 from

Thursday, June 02, 2005

English Vocabularly, Academia & the ESL Student

One of the most common concerns among international students is vocabulary. Many students argue that there are actually several Englishes: the formal academic English necessary to write an essay, the informal English a professor uses to tell a joke or a story in class, and the slang or colloquial expressions used in the campus coffee shops or dorms, for example. There is some truth to this idea. Traditionally the authors of writing guides have divided English into:

VocabularyCasual, slang, expressions, usually concreteNon-technical, both concrete and abstractOften abstract, technical, specialized
Sentence length and structureShort, simple sentences, grammar is not always correctLonger sentences, variety of length, grammar should be correctComplex sentences, commonly with 3-5 parts/clauses
UseBetween people who have an established relationshipBetween people of equal status or power with an emphasis on communicating meaningBetween individuals who have equal or unequal knowledge or status
For letters, fiction, advertisingNewspapers, magazines, business correspondenceImpersonal, serious, instructional
Academic writing, textbooks, scientific reports, journals, legal documents

(Adapted from Norton & Green, 2006)

However, many international students struggle to understand, learn, and use the appropriate kind of English words/expressions because it is not as simple as academic English=research paper and slang=Canadian friends. Furthermore, using “right kind of English” is a challenge for everyone, not just international students; status, gender, class, familiarity, culture, or mood are just a few other factors that contribute to the how or why we communicate.

It may be somewhat comforting to know that there are scholars who commit their time and skills to investigating the question “What is standard English anyway???” especially now that worldwide the people who speak English as a Second Language outnumber the people who speak English as a first language.

So what can we do? I have three suggestions:
(1) Pay attention! Notice the different kinds of contexts that you study, learn, or socialize in, and (as long as you are comfortable) try to respond verbally in the same way students in a similar situation do. The same goes for writing; look at successful pieces of writing in your field (or your textbook) and then mimic the kinds of language choices.

(2) If you don’t understand, ask questions about the meaning of a word or expression. Alternatively, you can check out Oxford English Dictionary (OED) on line. As a U of M student, you have free access to the OED!

(3) Check out corpus data. A corpus is a kind of bank of words that are most commonly used in a particular context. For example, the Academic Word List (AWL) is a bank of the 570 most commonly used word families in academic English. There are also great AWL exercises and examples on the "Using English for Academic Purposes" webpage. Finally, a glossary of Canadian slang and expressions can be found on the "Canadian Glossary, eh!" webpage.

If you have any vocabulary learning ideas, or you want to share your thoughts about the above information, send me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Reference Librarians & RefWorks

We are cautiously optimistic that summer is here or at least doing a fair imitation of one. The native Winnipegger's tendency to goof off, relax in the sun and soak in the rays as soon as warm weather arrives is not evident in the LAC. We are delighted that we have been busier than ever with students either coming up to 520 University Centre or stopping by to see the writing tutors in Elizabeth Dafoe with a variety of questions on paper writing. The intensity of spring courses are making their mark with papers and tests coming and going at an incredibly pace. This was obvious when this week's workshop "Research to Thesis" had 15 students show up!

Tip of the week: Reference Librarians!

Stuck finding material? Frustrated because you were sure there was more information available on your topic? Don't know what a boolean search term is? Confused by EbscoHost? Ask a reference librarian. Reference librarians can not only help you find useful search terms, but also help you navigate the large number of electronic databases found on the Netdoc page. If you're shy, tell them that I (Miriam Unruh) sent you.

Another research resource is Refworks. This program is available on-line, free (!) and will help you track all the research you've done on-line and produce correct references and citations. There is an excellent, and quite easy to follow tutorial that goes along with the program.

Next week's workshop, Tuesday 1-2 in 340 Helen Glass, is "Thesis to First Draft."