see writing assignments page for due dates



    Here are the guidelines.  The object of your review:

        - Must have something to do with the themes and issues of the course 

        - It can NOT be something already assigned as class reading

        - It has to be substantial enough to give you appropriate grounds for analysis and review

        - At least one of your reviews should address a book (or book-length object)

        - No more than one should address audiovisual material

    You might choose a substantial article from a magazine or journal, a book (or part of a book), or something from non-print media, including web-sites or videos/films/documentaries (but make sure non-print things give you  sufficient substance for review).

    How to find something appropriate?  Here are the things to try. 

        - If you have a topic you're interested in, use the library and library data-bases to search for articles and such

        - use  the same way

        - browse journals/magazines that address general areas of interest

        - don't hesitate to be contrarian -- take on something that you don't think you'll agree with (it's actually harder to critique something you DO agree with).

        - and don't hesitate to ask me for ideas

    You might choose something from relatively popular media or something from a more targeted or technical source.  Fine -- but your review needs to be thoughtful about what that means in terms of how you approach the thing.   WEB-ONLY PUBLICATIONS can be a special case.  Are they admissible? Of course -- but here it's particular critical to pay attention to the soruce; make sure it's something you can connect to a sponsor or writer or publisher.  If the site is ‘supported’ (referenced to or vouched for) by an identifiable entity (publisher, journal, organization), if it gives reference to sources, if it is substantial (equivalent to a journal article or a book), AND if it’s likely to be persistent (i.e., if I could find it, using your reference, after some time has elapsed), then it should be okay. If in doubt, ask.


    And read it again.  And maybe again.  Don't approach it the way you would normally 'consume' media; read it as a professional critic, editor, skeptic might read it.  Consciously skeptical inquiry is essential -- focused attention to details, arguments, rhetoric.  And do background research; conscious, critical reading means learning something about the author, about the publisher/producer, considering the time and place.


    “Critical analysis” can mean a range of things, but it is always more than simply a summary or synopsis of what's said; the essay is more about your thoughts, questions, reflections, analyses than about what the author 'said'. 

    The most important thing to keep in mind is that, as a critical analyst you are not an advocate -- you are a skeptic.  That doesn't mean you have to disagree (or agree), but that you attempt to approach the author's agendas and arguments in the manner of somebody who needs to be convinced.  You should always:

        - Give thought to the writer's/creator's agendas.  They are trying to influence you.  Towards what end?  How should that influence your reading/viewing?

        - Consider who the intended audience might be.  Does that influence your reading/viewing? Your assessment of how they've presented their arguments?

        - Pay attention to how they make their arguments.  Do they give you the information you need to assess them (or give you ways to access that information)? How do they use rhetorical devices (are they manipulative? Appropriate to audience?)?  Are there important assumptions or questions that they fail to make clear or address? How does this influence your reading/viewing?

        - Think about your own preconceptions.  How do these influence your reading/viewing?

        - Consider implications and open questions.   Where does the argument lead? What do you need to learn (what should author have said) to follow up on arguments? What are the most important things to do next? How does this affect your reading of the thing you're reviewing?

    Of course the weight you give each of these things will depend on the particular object of review and will vary, but  always remember that the point is NOT really whether you agree or disagree with, but why you react as you do (and that has to do both with where you're coming from and how the creator of the work approaches it).   Think in terms of both reflection (the 'you' part), and analysis (the creator...).

provide a brief synopsis or abstract of the thing you're reviewing, but simple description/repetition should never be the bulk of your essay; it's the critical stuff described above that should constitute most of what you write.  As a general guideline, the summary/synopsis should be less than half of your essay. 

    ALWAYS include a full reference or citation; I should be able to find whatever it is you’re reviewing from your citation (and I should be able to do it easily).  See the linked document on citation for more. 

     Make the essay long enough to be substantial, but not too long; focus on an issue or two or three, and avoid rambling, vague generalizations and assertions, universal truths, pointless introductions.  Get to your point.  Some specific hints:

    Think in terms of around 5 normal typed pages (ca. 1500 words) as likely sufficient.  If you're a really succinct writer, it might less.  If it's much more, you should probably focus more sharply (you don't have to assess every paragraph of your subject material...).

     WRITE WELL.  That means it's important to use language and syntax that's technically correct, but it means more than that.  

        - avoid formulaic writing. Don’t waste time and words on formally trite introductions. 

        - Avoid passive voice.

        - Refrain from unsupported/unanalyzed assertions.

        - Pay attention to overall organization and flow  of your essay.  Outlining is good. Headings and sections can help clarify the logical flow.  Paragraphs make a difference.

        - REVISE. Re-reading and revising will certainly and always help.