Project #38051 - Discussion

After thoroughly reading this material in module #1, provide a substantial paragraph (of at least 250 words) detailing the most important lessons you've gained from this material and explaining how you will apply them to your work, especially the first critique essay.



  1. Using UMUC's Library and Information Services
  2. Writing a Critique of an Article
  3. Additional Writing Strategies
  4. Conclusion

I. Using UMUC's Library and Information Services Databases to Find Scholarly Articles

Introduction to Library and Information Services

Library research can be daunting to those who approach it haphazardly. So, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the research tools at your disposal at UMUC. With a little insight into these tools, you can find great sources with relative ease.

UMUC has a number of resources available to help research any topic.

The following resources will provide you with the ability to navigate the library databases in search of scholarly sources.

Video tutorial #1

Video tutorial #2

Video tutorial #3

II. Writing a Critique of an Article

The following video by Andrew Cavanaugh, director of Academic Writing, provides an overview on the critique essay.

Figure 1.1
Writing a Critique

Video Transcript

Most of us know how to critique; indeed, we are critiquing constantly. Whenever you give your opinion on a book, a film, or a television show, you are critiquing that piece of work. In formal academic critiques, sometimes students forget to add their opinion when writing. They have a tendency to summarize their source without giving an opinion on that source. Another mistake that students often make is that they assume that the opinion in the critique must be negative. Critiques can be—and often are—very positive. In this section, we will present tools and techniques for writing critiques with ease.

Introduction to Critiquing

Let's practice critiquing. First, read this chapter, "The Untouchables," from a book by Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century:

Then, read this article by Friedman, "The New Untouchables," from the New York Times:

Finally, watch this interview from the Charlie Rose show in which Friedman and author Michael Mandelbaum discuss the state of education in the United States:

Take notes on what Friedman and Mandelbaum say about education in the two articles and in the interview. Consider the following questions: What observations do Friedman and Mandelbaum make about education in the United States? What suggestions do the authors present? How does the segment from Charlie Rose illustrate the authors' points about education?

Prepare some questions for your classmates on the points these authors make.

Strategies for Organizing a Critique Essay

A thesis for a critique essay might be organized in the following manner:

"While Smith argues persuasively that supply and demand does not apply to the medical field, his arguments on the need for national health care feature gaps in logic and fail to answer basic questions about patients' rights."

Introduce the Topic, Introduce the Author, and Write the Thesis Statement

Two Approaches to the Body of the Essay


Note: If you do not have any evaluative negative commentary or questions on the article to write in your critique, but have only positive commentary to give, then you may need to change your choice of articles on which to write a critique or evaluate the article more thoroughly. A critique essay should feature questions on the article or shortcomings of the article.

Developing Conclusions

Restate the strengths and weaknesses of the author's analysis.

Let's practice organizing a critique article.
Your answers to these questions will be sent to your instructor, but they will not be graded.

Practicing Organizing a Critique Article1. After finding a credible, scholarly source, make sure that you introduce the author of the article, the main idea of the article, as well as any points you would like to make about the main point. Keep in mind that your critique can assess the work of an author positively or negatively. So, you could end up with a positive critique of an article! Introduce the author's main idea and share any points that you would like to make.2. Spend some time summarizing the source. In your summary, make sure that you've introduced the purpose of the article and the main points of the argument supporting that purpose. Support your ideas with quotes from the text—or even quotes from other criticism of the text. Post your summary below.3. Now, critically analyze the author's success. Does he or she succeed in making his main point? Try to state your opinion of his or her success as objectively as you can.4. Next, tell your readers your opinion of the author's argument. In the previous section, you objectively assessed the success/failure of the author's argument. Now, state your opinion of the argument. Feel free to back up your opinion with quotes from other credible sources.5. Finally, state your final thoughts about the source. Remember to mention the strengths and weaknesses of the source as you wrap up your discussion.

Behrens, L. & Rosen, L. (2010). Writing and reading across the curriculum. 11th ed. New York: Longman.

Summarizing Paragraphs

A summary is a restatement of source material in a writer's own words. The first step to writing a strong summary is to carefully read the contents of an article. As you read over the article, take notes about the main points. Remember that a good summary includes the name of the author, the main ideas in an article, and any important information about the context in which the article was presented. Do not add your own opinions to a summary. Your instructor will work with you on developing strategies for summaries.

III. Additional Writing Strategies

To demonstrate your mastery of the material, it is important to provide a strong framework for your writing and to explain to your reader how different points relate to each other. This can be accomplished by crafting strong introductions and conclusions, by developing unified, coherent paragraphs, and by signaling your intentions with clear transitions.

Introductions and Conclusions

Have you ever seen concrete being poured before it has set? Because concrete is first a thick liquid, it needs a "form" or container placed in the shape and location of the final concrete product. Concrete forms can be simple or complex, depending on the project, and can be made from many different types of materials.

You might think of an essay's introduction and conclusion as the "form" for the essay. They provide needed structure and definition for the essay as a whole. This discussion of introductions continues at this tutorial on introductions. The discussion of conclusions continues at this tutorial on conclusions.

Body Paragraphs

Have you ever been told that your writing doesn't flow? That your writing is confusing? That your writing is unclear? This kind of feedback is really more about the reader's experience than about the writing itself. It is saying that the reader doesn't understand or finds your argument hard to follow. It's saying that the reader feels uncomfortable with the style of the essay, that it's too choppy/formal/informal, etc. This is useful information because no one writes in a vacuum. We write in order to communicate with others. At the same time, this kind of feedback does not give much specific advice to the writer.

One way to make sure that your essay "flows" (i.e., that the reader understands the progression and development of your argument) is to develop unified paragraphs with strong topic sentences. Topic sentences connect one paragraph to the next by transitions, and also by connecting each paragraph back to the main idea of the document. Topic sentences also announce the content of the particular paragraph. A series of effective topic sentences can help the reader move through the essay with ease and grasp the main ideas of the essay without distraction. A topic sentence such as "There are three causes for the 1991 Kurdish rebellion in Iraq" is essentially a contract between the reader and writer. The writer is promising that the paragraph will then discuss those three causes, and the reader is promising to follow along. But if a paragraph begins with a straight fact, such as "The American Civil War ended in 1865," there isn't anywhere for the paragraph to go. What else can be said about this information?

Topic sentences that clearly announce the intended subject of the paragraph can also help with the important concept of paragraph unity. A "unified" paragraph is one that discusses one main idea, and only one. If your paragraph seems to be meandering, check its content against the topic sentence. Does it discuss the topic sentence's information, and only that? Or does it bring in new ideas that have not been announced before?

Integrate Sources Smoothly into Your Own Writing

Once you have found credible, relevant information and identified the source's main points as well as its relevance to your own project, you need to think about integrating that information into your essay. There are different ways to present source material within your writing. These methods are discussed below. But regardless of how the material is presented, the essay needs the following three components every time material is used:

  1. a sentence or series of sentences that introduce the source material, including a signal phrase
  2. the source material itself
  3. a sentence or series of sentences that interpret the source material, explaining its relevance to the rest of the paragraph or essay

Signal Phrases

In introducing the source material, think about distinguishing that material from your own language and ideas. Sometimes this can be accomplished with a well-chosen phrase or verb. MLA style and APA style call the introductory phrase a "signal phrase" that signals to the reader that outside material is coming up. You might also think about using "reporting verbs" to clarify who has said what. Different academic disciplines tend to use different verbs. These verbs are usually present tense when MLA style is used and past tense when APA style is used. Table 1.1 lists some reporting verbs.

Do you need to review MLA or APA style citations?

MLA citations:

APA citations:

Table 1.1
List of Reporting Verbs

Academic Discipline

Most Used Reporting Verb









Adapted from Swales, J. & Feak, C. Academic writing for graduate students. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 163.

When you are presenting the source material itself, you have three choices:

  • quoting
  • paraphrasing
  • summarizing

You are probably already familiar with quoting source material. This means taking the exact language of the source and dropping it into your essay. To show the reader that both the language and the ideas are someone else's, you must use quote marks at the beginning and end of the sentences or phrases. You can remove insignificant words or phrases from the quote with ellipses, but you cannot change the language to suit your own argument; that would be dishonest.

Let's say your original source included the following sentence: "Carbon-based emissions are not definitively linked to global warming."

An essay that quoted the source saying "Carbon-based emissions are . . . definitively linked to global warming" takes out only one word, but completely changes the meaning of the original source. This is unfair and incorrect.

Although quoting is widely known as a way to use source material, it should be used sparingly. Your reader is interested in finding out what you have to say about a topic, not what one or more of your sources say.

Therefore, quotes should only be used

  • when the language is unique or particularly expressive
  • when the writer wants to distance himself or herself from the ideas expressed in the quote
  • when the speaker or writer of the original quote is a widely recognized expert

Because quotes should be used sparingly, consider paraphrasing and summarizing your source material instead. Both of these methods use the writer's own language rather than someone else's.

When an essay paraphrases source material, it restates all of the source's points in the same order as the original source. But, it does so using the essay writer's language. Paraphrasing objectively reports on the original source's points.

When an essay summarizes source material, it picks and chooses the points to discuss. It may also respond to these points right away, by arguing for or against them.

In all three uses of source material—quotes, paraphrases, and summaries—it is important to distinguish the language and ideas of a source from the essay's language and ideas. It is also important to indicate where the language and ideas have come from by using in-text citations.

Identify Strategies for Developing a Critical Analysis

Projects for upper-level academic courses often ask for an analysis of a topic. This is a broad term that can mean different things depending upon the field of study. However, any analysis will share the following characteristics. It will

  • attempt to develop a new, fresh, or interesting angle on a topic
  • attempt to apply the ideas expressed in the paper
  • present a specific standpoint on an issue, rather than merely explain information

An analysis usually requires a thorough understanding of a topic. It demands that writers move beyond stating obvious or well-known points, and apply some creative thinking to the topic.
Let's look at an example topic of campaign finance reform. Can you identify the analytical approach to this topic from the following list?

  1. Different interest groups have different opinions about campaign finance reform.
  2. Although campaign finance reform is badly needed, current legislative efforts will have the unintended effect of stifling political participation.
  3. Campaign finance reform has a long history in US politics.

The correct answer is "b." That statement is more analytical than sentences (a) and (c). Sentence (a) merely states an obvious point. The idea that different groups will have different opinions applies to anything. It's like saying that different people will want to eat different foods or wear different kinds of clothing. Sentence (c) suggests a description of previous reform efforts. This is an expository or informative effort, rather than an analytical argument.
Sentence (b), on the other hand, suggests a rather surprising point. It also articulates a clear and definite standpoint on the topic that a paper could develop and support.

Analytical arguments tend to be more interesting, more insightful, and better able to meet the purpose of most academic writing. But how can they be developed? Sometimes, merely answering the main question of an assignment will develop an analysis. Often, however, you may need to develop some questions of your own in order to proceed with an analysis.

Here are some examples. After each assignment, you can run your cursor over the link "Research Questions" to see questions that a student could pose and answer in order to develop an analysis.

  1. For a history course: Describe the Articles of Confederation that established the first government of the United States, and consider why and how it was replaced by the current US Constitution. Research Questions for (a)
  2. For an English course: Explain the role of the spectator in two of Henry James's novels. Research Questions for (b)
  3. For an information systems course: Describe a technology that has had a major impact on a profession of your choice. Research Questions for (c)
  4. For a business management course: Discuss the economy of one Caribbean country. Is the economy going through any major changes? What major problems, if any, exist? Research Questions for (d)

You can see that many of these questions narrow the scope and purpose of the document. This is an important step because it enables the writer of the document to focus on one or two important topics and discuss them in depth.
When you clicked on the example assignments above, you saw a list of questions that could be answered to develop an analytical argument. But how can you develop those questions yourself? Here are some approaches:

  • Develop questions that begin with "why" or "how."
  • Consider the causes and/or effects of your topic.
  • Try to rank subtopics and identify those that are most important, relevant, or significant to the larger topic.
  • Ask yourself how your understanding of the larger topic changes when you consider the subtopic.
  • Look for similarities and differences between two subtopics, and consider the importance of these similarities and differences.

IV. Conclusion

A writer who demonstrates mastery of a subject will accomplish several things. He or she will research effectively; demonstrate an understanding of the main ideas or theories of a topic; determine his or her own purpose for information; integrate information smoothly into his or her own documents; and structure a document to move a reader from one point to another with ease. As you analyze your writing assignments for this course and all other college-level courses, think about trying to apply these skills to your own work.

  • Identify your purpose. If you are writing in response to an assignment, break down the assignment as carefully as you can. Look at every sentence and word, particularly if it's a short assignment.
  • Develop context. Perform research and analyze texts to understand consensus as well as points of disagreement. Try to identify influential texts and major experts in the field.
  • Analyze the topic. Ask probing questions that can lead to an interesting discussion. Avoid forming writing plans that rely on yes/no answers or uncovering easily identifiable statements of fact.

These tasks are not particularly easy but will help you to develop ideas and documents that are efficient and effective.


Swales, J., & Feak, C. (2004). Academic writing for graduate students. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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