ENGL 102
Writing and Research
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3 components - Questions for Source - What to Critique - Grading Elements - Sample Critique

A CRITIQUE IS A BALANCED LOOK AT A SOURCE'S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Every critique should include three main components:

1) A summary of the overall argument.

2) A multi-paragraph section that discusses the important individual elements in detail.

3) A conclusion that pulls the entire assessment together and makes a value judgment

IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO SIMPLY SAY YOU LIKED OR DIDN'T LIKE THE ESSAY; YOU MUST DEFEND AND EXPLAIN YOUR REACTION.

The first step in doing a critique is to do a critical analysis of the source:

Some questions to ask when doing a Critical Analysis:

  1. Who is the author?

  2. What are their credentials (what makes them a believable or appropriate source)?

  3. Do they explain their data/statistics, or just list them?

  4. Do they argue an absolute Black/White, right/wrong position?

  5. Who is the sponsoring organization/publisher?

  6. Do they (or the author) have a bias about the subject?

  7. How old is the information (or the article/source itself)?

  8. Is the source focused more on the information or the format/design of the page?

  9. How well does this information fit your other sources on the same subject?

  10. How well does it fit the Kosmicki Test?

These are not the only questions to ask, but if you ask at least these questions, you should be able to fairly evaluate the source's arguments and ideas.

Decide Which Points to Critique:

Now that you've asked these questions – you can BEGIN to decide what you need to discuss in your critique. The critique is NOT just answering the questions listed above. Most critiques will focus on just one or two of these points.

Use your critical analysis skills to identify which points are the strongest, or weakest, and examine them at some length in your critique, with each point getting its own paragraph of discussion.

Always use examples from the original source to back up your claims. If you want to discuss how an author uses an example, you need to show us an example of how they use it, not just discuss it. Show us what you are evaluating, then explain the evaluation.

Remember that a critique is meant to be an evaluation. Don't conclude with some wishy-washy statement like “some readers may find a use for it.” If your overall assessment is negative, then your conclusion should reflect that. You've supported your assessment with your body paragraphs, so you are entitled to make the judgment. If your readers disagree, they can write their own critique giving their perspective.

If you can use other sources to support your reading/analysis, that's great. It's not always required, but it can be helpful. However, make sure that you acknowledge those other sources. Don't plagiarize. At the very least reference the other source in the sentence: “As Steven Berlin Johnson tells us in his book Everything Bad is Good for You…” Even better, if you are comfortable with the format, is to use MLA or APA citation and have a Works Cited/References page that includes the critiqued source as well as the other sources used.

A critique should show the reader that you have read and fully understood ALL of the original source, not just one part. Make sure that you are fully discussing all the intricacies of the original source' s arguments, as well as following the proper format.

A successful critique includes:

Sample Critique:

In “I Think, Therefore IM,” Jennifer Lee describes a new difficulty facing English teachers everywhere: Instant Messaging abbreviations. Lee offers multiple examples of how students take abbreviations like b4 and cuz and use them in their schoolwork. The reactions from the interviewed teachers range from total rejection and lower grades to allowing them in early drafts but not final drafts. According to Lee's article, this is a change in how written language is understood and used by different generations.

OMG, I was ROTFL when I read this SA.

Either you can read that sentence and are smiling at the joke, or you are frowning because you don't understand the sentence, and suspect that the joke is somehow on you. These two responses are what Jennifer Lee's article is really about. She presents one more version of the generation gap, but this time it involves spelling!

Lee's article is well-written, as you'd expect from a New York Times article. She uses many examples of IM abbreviations, so the reader knows what she is writing about, even if they aren't familiar with Instant Messaging or its common abbreviations. Even better, Lee recognizes that most of her readers are going to be from the same generation and perspective as the teachers in the article, so she makes sure to define the abbreviations. When she quotes the sentence “B4 we perform, ppl have 2 practice,” she not only shows us the specific language that confused the teacher, but follows it up with a translation in case the reader was also befuddled. This allows both groups – those who understood it as well as those who didn't – to follow along.

The other benefit of translating the IM lingo is that it shows that most of the lingo is actually quite easy to understand. The teachers who complain about it appear to have problems with it mainly because they haven't seen it before, not because it doesn't make sense. In fact, Lee interviews several teachers who have asked their students to translate the lingo for them, and at least one of them indicates that she understands it quite easily now. So is it really that hard to figure out that b4 means before or that ppl stands for people? After all, don't most English teachers, when they grade papers, expect students to know that sp means spelling, frag means fragment or that a line drawn between two words means that they should be combined into a compound word? How are those abbreviations any different, except that it's the teacher's lingo instead of the students'?

The abbreviations that teachers use are different in one very important way: they are used in a personal conversation between two people. The teacher is commenting specifically to the writer about their writing -- and only to the writer. It is not a public conversation or a formal piece of writing. Most teachers, if they wrote a more formal, complete response to the writer, rather than comments on the paper itself, do not use abbreviations like sp or frag. Lee quotes several teachers in the article making an important point: there is a difference between what is acceptable in informal, personal communication and what is acceptable in formal, public communication. But not all the interviewed teachers seem to understand this difference either. These teachers imply, or simply state outright, that IM lingo is always wrong. It's not wrong if your intended audience understands, accepts, and even expects it. Lee implies that instead of just teaching that IM is right or wrong, the teachers need to start teaching students how to determine what level of language is most appropriate for their audience.

And there is a difference in what language is appropriate for what audience. Lee, shows, through her examples, that there different levels of IM lingo. Most readers should be able to understand that u means you and l8r means later and th@ means that. But unless you are part of the IM crowd, how are you supposed to know what lol or brb means? (laughing out loud and be right back, respectively). Jennifer Lee introduces these more complex abbreviations late in the article and doesn't deal with the difference between these and the earlier, simpler abbreviations. By implying that all IM abbreviations are the same, Lee loses some of the interesting complexities of this new form of communication and reduces it to just a spelling issue.

Jennifer Lee quotes an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to support the idea that language is always changing and evolving and that the changes come from the users, not the dictionary editors or English teachers. However, English teachers are often put into the position of teaching right/wrong rules about how language is to be used. They aren't always in a position to allow for the language to change when the textbook and the standardized tests are going to say that the new version is incorrect. So this generational conflict is not going to go away. The younger generation has their language that will potentially become the official, formal language of the future. But English teachers have to teach the official, formal language of the present, not what might become official in the future.

Jennifer Lee's article is a good example of how language use does change and the conflict that it can create, especially for those people in charge of teaching the formal rules of language. The interviews and examples would be very useful for any student writing a paper about this issue. However, Lee does show this as being a simple right/wrong issue, rather than the more complex issue of evolving language that it really is. This article is a good starting point, and an excellent source of examples, but a researcher would want to find more complex discussions of this issue as well.

This is one example of how to critique Jennifer Lee's article. You might agree with this critique. You might disagree. That's not the point. This is ONE reader's response. You should be able to write your OWN response that is similar to this one in terms of how it specifically discusses Lee's writing and specific arguments.

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