Writing a Critique (CSE) - University of New Brunswick

Report
Notes on Writing a
Critique
From the UNB Writing Centre
Topics
1. Thesis statements (key judgements and
2.
3.
4.
5.
their basis in a single sentence)
Presenting and citing evidence (and the
dangers of plagiarism)
Validity markers (hedges, emphatics, and
attributors)
Conciseness
Revision and final editing
Drafting Thesis Statements
O “A short statement conveying an explicit
judgment concerning a limited topic and
based on suitable evidence”
O It is what the paper discovers or
demonstrates
Purpose: Writer’s POV
O A check on the research/writing process
O The touchstone against which all else will be
judged
Purpose: Reader’s POV
O Informs the reader of the key findings
O Not a simple statement of accepted fact
O Not an “opinion”
O A judgment based on evidence
O Single-sentence “executive summary”
O Similar to requirements on some grant
applications
2. Effective Thesis statements
Ineffective
Better
O Pets are a source of joy and In the majority of pet-
love. (boring)
O In clinical terms, the
pet/owner relationship can
be viewed from many
angles. (ambiguous)
O This essay will be about
pets. (too obvious)
O In my opinion, I think pets
are a source of joy. (about
the writer)
owning households in
the UK, pets either
replace or supplement
human children in the
social order of the home.
Thesis Statements
Aim:
This paper explored the
misconceptions about
the role of natural
selection in the
development of effective
human pathogens
evident in the 2011 film
Contagion.
Thesis:
Contagion unrealistically
compresses the time
required for an animal
pathogen to become a
highly transmissible
human-adapted virus,
reducing a process that
typically takes years to a
mere 48 hours.
Try a short quiz. . . .
O Judge whether each example is a thesis statement
O Note what makes it a thesis statement (if it is one)
O Indicate what is missing (if it is not)
Thesis Statements
1. In the 2007 film I Am Legend, most of the world’s
population is killed by an engineered retrovirus
that mutates to become an airborne disease.
This is a statement of fact (if it’s true), not an
inference from evidence
A thesis may be supported by obvious statements of
fact, but it usually involves evaluation of some kind
Thesis Statements
2. I believe the progress of the zoonose in Contagion
to be too rapid to be credible.
This is certainly a definite judgement, but it is
presented as an opinion (“I believe”)
The thesis is presumably “the zoonose in Contagion
develops too rapidly to be believable”
Even better: explain why
Thesis Statements
3. Because the Motaba virus depicted in Outbreak
(1997) produces symptoms in a matter of hours, has an
extreme case-fatality rate (100%), and shifts modes of
transmission (from fluid-borne to airborne) within days,
it is a highly improbable invention.
•This is certainly a definite judgement, and the basis
for it is specified
•Any comment on “because”?
Finding Thesis Statements
O Often indirectly expressed
O Special concerns discourage direct statements
O Research method determines extent/strength of
statement
O Partly a result of format, partly a way of
maintaining objectivity
O Typically, you must infer the thesis by examining
several parts of the paper
Qualifying Your Thesis
O be open about limitations, inconsistencies
O never draw unjustified conclusions
O use appropriate validity markers
2. Citing/Quoting
Document Sources
Rigorously
• Close work with sources is crucial—record
every source as you use it (hard to find
later!)
• Two basic techniques:
1. Quotations (block/embedded)
2. Paraphrase with citation
In scientific and technical fields, #2 is the
overwhelming choice.
Block Quotations
123 words—
Dr. Mears explains the factors in determining the rate of infection
my goodness!
of an epidemic:
What we need to determine is this; for every person who gets
sick, how many other people are they likely to infect? So, for
seasonal flu that's usually about one. Smallpox on the other
hand, it's over three. Now, before we had a vaccine, polio
spread at a rate between four and six. Now, we call that
number the R-not. R stands for the reproductive rate of the
virus. . . . How fast it multiplies depends on a variety of
factors; the incubation period, how long a person is
contagious. Sometimes people can be contagious without
even having symptoms, you need to know that too. And we
need to know how big the population of people susceptible to
the virus might be. (Soderbergh 2011)
Bulk Quotation
O Not only is this overkill, but it fails to
emphasize the key details
O Natural/Scripted dialogue is rarely an
efficient means of conveying information
O Need we read the whole passage for this?
Embedded Quotation/Paraphrase
As Dr. Mears explains, key factors in the
spread of infection include the reproduction
rate of the virus, its incubation period, the
duration of asymptomatic infection, and
susceptibility of the population (Soderbergh
2011).
31 words—
more efficient
& emphatic
CSE Name-Year System
O Sources are identified in the body of the
paper by parenthetical references
O At the end of the paper, a reference list,
arranged alphabetically, provides full
publication details
Reference List Entry
Soderbergh, S (dir.). Contagion. US: Warner
Bros., 2011. 106 min.
Embedded Quotation
Dr. Mears also mentions the importance of
determining how large “the population of
people susceptible to the virus might be”
(Soderbergh 2011).
Use quotation marks even for short
phrases . . . otherwise. . . .
Plagiarism
O Probably widespread
O CBC ‘s “Ideas” program suggested that nearly all
students plagiarize (2009)
O Unnecessary: Simply QUOTE
Bradley vs. Wegman
O 2006: Edward Wegman (George Mason
University) wrote a highly technical report critical
of the use of statistics in current climate science
(attacking Thomas Bradley among others)
O 2010: Thomas Bradley (University of
Massachusetts) alleged that Wegman
reproduced sections of a textbook he wrote
without quoting—and he was right!
O However, as Steven McIntyre pointed out,
Bradley’s textbook contains plagiarism. . . .
Bradley & Fritts
Once the regression coefficients have been calculated, the eigenvectors
incorporated in the regression equation are mathematically transformed
into a new set of n coefficients corresponding to the original
(intercorrelated) set of n variables. These new coefficients are termed
weights or elements of the response function and are analogous to the
stepwise regression coefficients discussed earlier. . . . (Bradley, 1985, p.
346)
Once the regression coefficients for the selected set of orthogonal variables
have been calculated, they may be mathematically transformed into a new
set of coefficients which correspond to the original correlated set of
variables. These new coefficients (sometimes referred to as weights or
elements of the response function) are analogous to the stepwise regression
coefficients described in the previous section. . . . (Fritts, 1976, p. 353)
Bradley & Fritts
Quibbles:
Once the regression coefficients have been calculated, the eigenvectors
“are
termed” vs. “referred to”
incorporated in the regression equation are mathematically transformed
“discussed
earlier”
vs. “described
in tothe
section”
into a new set
of n coefficients
corresponding
theprevious
original
(intercorrelated)
set of n EXACTLY
variables. These new coefficients are termed
SAME
order of ideas
weights or elements of the response function and are analogous to the
stepwise regression coefficients discussed earlier. . . . (Bradley, 1985, p.
346)
42/55 words (76%
PLAGIARISED!
Once the regression coefficients for the selected set of orthogonal variables
have been calculated, they may be mathematically transformed into a new
set of coefficients which correspond to the original correlated set of
variables. These new coefficients (sometimes referred to as weights or
elements of the response function) are analogous to the stepwise regression
coefficients described in the previous section. . . . (Fritts, 1976, p. 353)
Do Cheaters Prosper?
O Moral of the story: document your sources
RIGOROUSLY, or the debate will be about
plagiarism and nothing more
O Plagiarism Roll of (Dis)Honour:
Stephen E. Ambrose, Civil War historian
Doris Kearns Goodwin, biographer of the Kennedy clan
David Rotor & Douglas Tipple, Public Works Dept. consultants
30 Carleton University engineering students (2002)
3. Validity Markers
O easy part: the key findings
O remember to use appropriate qualifications
in your conclusions (and thesis statement)
O validity markers indicate the
strength/source of conclusions
Validity Markers
a.
b.
c.
hedges: perhaps, may, might, often,
usually, apparently, seemingly
emphatics (boosters): clearly, undoubtedly,
it is obvious that, of course
attributors: “according to Wilson (1999)”
Contagion unrealistically compresses the
time required for an animal pathogen to
become a highly transmissible humanadapted virus, reducing a process that
typically takes years to a mere 48 hours.
Contagion unrealistically compresses the
time required for an animal pathogen to
become a highly transmissible humanadapted virus, reducing a process that
typically takes years to a mere 48 hours.
Would “impossible” be too strong?
Was the transmissibility be “extremely”?
Are there sufficiently few exceptions to justify “typically”?
How does “mere” affect the tone?
4. Conciseness
Diction
O Writing Apprenticeship: expansiveness and
dilation have been emphasized over
precision and economy
Now it is time to choose
O The right words and
O Words your audience knows.
Complex Diction
O What do people REALLY think of overly
complex diction?
Consequences of Erudite
O
D. Oppenheimer,Utilized
Stanford U (2003):
Vernacular
O people who use unnecessarily complicated
Irrespective
of Necessity:
language are viewed
as less intelligent than
people who use more familiar language
Problems With Using
Long Words Needlessly
Ready-Made Phrases
O Like Frankenstein's monster, "ready-made"
writing is stitched together out of dead
parts.
O Avoid phrases that “sound appropriate”
O Use only words you need—and your
audience understands
Novelty & Vocabulary
O “make it new” is not the always best advice
for selecting words
O Accuracy and familiarity (of individual words,
not phrases) are crucial
O The evil comes from overly familiar phrases
and unnecessarily obscure words
Basic Inflation
•
•
•
•
•
•
Based on the fact that
Due to the fact that
Exhibit a tendency to
For the purpose of
For the reason that
In spite of the fact
that
Because
Because
Tend to
For
Because
Although
Other Types of Repetition
Redundant Adjectives/Adverbs
O future plans
O consensus of opinion
O especially unique
O potential hazard
O final outcome
Nominalizations
allocation
allocate
assessment
assess
compliance
comply
determination
determine
expectations
expect
exposure
expose
[had] hopes [of]
hoped
Positive Advice
O Find the VERB in the nominalization, and
build the sentence around it
O Strong verbs make clear sentences (and
usually shorter ones, too!)
Where Does It Come From?
O Most of these choices are the result of
“length anxiety”
O From early grades, length is the measure of
achievement
O Students learn to pad—to be honest, we
teach them—and the habit becomes
engrained
O Editors then try to take it all out again
5. Revision & Editing
O Do the little errors matter?
Minor Grammatical Errors
O Grammatical howlers, frequently merely
conventional or formal errors
O Many do not impair the effectiveness of the
communication
O How important are they?
Although the newly-developed
vaccine was suppose to protect the
bulk of the population, it failed
because of the rapid mutation of the
virus.
Grammatical Bugbears
O Cannot be ignored (“use to,” “should of,” “in
regards to”)
O Will always overshadow genuine
achievement to some degree
O Technology cannot yet save us--
MS Word May Not Help!
Editing & Memory
• Let’s test yours
Memorabilia
You Are Your Own Worst
Editor
O We see what we expect to see;
O We interpret as we read;
O At the same time, we know
communication is robust—and so we
are sometimes careless
How Robust?
There was nothing wrong with
her way of handling the car;
its engine was defective
They're as nothing wring wither
way of handing the care; its
engine was deflective.
Word: No Help Here
General Principles
O Keep track of your purpose and test each
paragraph and sentence against it
O Keep your audience in mind and write for
them, not at them
O Critique your own writing in relation to that
purpose and audience
O Have someone else read your writing
Five Revision Rules
Stick to the point
O delete any irrelevant information, however
interesting
O you may be able to place it in the appendix
O removing extra information makes what
remains clearer
1.
2. Say what you mean
O reading out loud helps
O having another person read it helps more
O never repeat a phrase you have read
elsewhere unless you understand it
thoroughly (the other writer may be wrong)
3. Keep forward momentum
O repeat key words as necessary so that a
clear argument develops
O use appropriate connectives to ensure clear
progress (example)
Identify the connectives
In saturated air (100% relative humidity), the worms
lost about 20% of their initial body weight during the
first 20 hours but were then able to prevent further
dehydration. In contrast, worms maintained in air of
70-80% relative humidity experienced a much faster
rate of dehydration, losing 63% of their total body
water content in 24 hours. As a consequence of this
rapid dehydration, most worms died within the 24hour period.
In saturated air (100% relative humidity), the worms
lost about 20% of their initial body weight during the
first 20 hours but were then able to prevent further
dehydration. In contrast, worms maintained in air of
70-80% relative humidity experienced a much faster
rate of dehydration, losing 63% of their total body
water content in 24 hours. As a consequence of this
rapid dehydration, most worms died within the 24hour period.
4. Indicate interpretations
O Signal all interpretations clearly
The difference in infection rates is evident
in Table 1.
What IS the difference?
4. Indicate interpretations
O Signal all interpretations clearly
Clearly, the motaba virus is far more
infectious than ebola, on which it was
based (Table 1).
5. Avoid overlap &
repetition
O Be concise. . . .
Although the film repeatedly emphasized
their expertise, the CDC team seemed
unaware of actual treatments for EHF.
One such treatment the team overlooked
was based on blood transfusions from
convalescent patients.
5. Avoid overlap &
repetition
O Be concise. . . .
In spite of their supposed expertise, the
CDC team seemed unaware of such
treatments for EHF as blood transfusions
from convalescent patients.
6. Bonus Rule: Make Backups!
O Most common error: saving OVER existing
document
O Difficult to reverse
O Practice saving with a new name so this
never happens
Slideshow (and More)
go.unb.ca/wss
“Writing Answers”
Title: “Notes on Writing a Critique”

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