Reading Critically: Questions to Consider

  • What is the essay’s main focus, argument, or question?
    • In peer review: If you as a reader can’t identify it, help the author to articulate that main focus more clearly.
  • What does the paper do especially well? What examples or analytical moves best help move the paper forward?
  • Are there parts of the paper that are confusing?
    • In peer review: Ask the author to talk out her ideas and see if you can help get them down on paper more clearly.
  • Do all the sections of the paper make sense together, or are there places where the author seems to go on a tangent? Does the paper arrive at a more complex, more interesting place than it started? Does every paragraph build on what comes before?
    • In peer review: Ask the author to talk through his intentions about structure and movement, and see if you can help him develop a plan for a clearer structure.
  •  How well are the paper’s assertions supported with specific textual evidence? Are there unsupported assertions? What evidence might be incorporated to support them? How clear is it that the evidence means what the author says it means?
    • In peer review: Identify any places where assertions need more specific support or where the author has not explained the significance of her evidence.
  • Examine the introduction. Does it lead the reader logically and directly into the paper? Does it avoid cliché?
    • In peer review: How might it be strengthened?
  •  How well does the conclusion tie things together? Does it do more than simply restate the introduction? How might the author conclude more effectively?
  •  Has the author properly cited all quoted, paraphrased, and summarized material either in footnotes or in parenthetical citations accompanied by a bibliography?
  • In peer review: What concerns does the author have? See if you can address them.

[With thanks to Dr. Lynda Yankaskas, History Department]

Source Reviews

A source review is a brief analysis of an article. A good review should very briefly summarize the main arguments in the source, provide some minor analysis of those arguments, and show how the source advances the ideas you will be considering in your final paper for the project.

In your review you should provide a critique of your academic source, analyzing and evaluating argument(s), evidence, accuracy, and presentation. While your reader will need a brief summary of the argument, keep it short so that you can focus on analysis. It is important to highlight the strengths as well as weaknesses of the work.

  • You should also explain how the book contributes to your larger project. Some questions you may want to address :
    What kind of source is this? From which discipline does it emerge? Who are its intended readers?
  • What are the author’s sources for the work? How does the author place this work within the field? To what other studies is the author responding?
  • What are the author’s thesis and conclusions? How well is the argument presented? What contributions does the source make to the field?
  • How does the source tie in to your project?

Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a listing of research sources in which entries have some kind of narrative description, usually summarizing and/or evaluating the sources.

The depth and extent of narrative description will vary depending on what is the purpose for the bibliography. For a source review bibliography I am not expecting that you will have already thoroughly investigated all the sources you list. Rather, this bibliography should demonstrate that you have done some research to find sources you expect will be useful. It will also give us an opportunity to open a conversation about the nature of sources and, in particular, what comprises an academic source and how it differs from other types of sources.

Questions you might ask for a given source include:

  • What do you expect to find in the source?
  • Why do you think the source might be useful?
  • How do you expect the source will connect to your topic?
  • How do you hope the source will add to the topic?

For a useful description and discussion of annotated bibliographies see:
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/614/01/