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Online resources to help students summarize journal articles and write critical reviews

The courses I teach tend to be very practical and applied. My teaching philosophy is founded on helping my students acquire employable skills. Writing solid, robust, concise and easy-to-read analytical summaries should be an acquired tool that they then can transfer to other fields. Politicians, bureaucrats and high-level people in government that I’ve talked to have always considered summarizing information a great tool that undergraduate and graduate education should provide. Yet, the online resources I found to help students summarize journal articles and write critical reviews left me wanting.

AcWri handwritten notes and journal article reading

There are, of course, plenty of resources. But reading a vast majority of them always left me with a feeling that either they were too long for students to get through (in addition to the relatively high reading load I am assigning for each of my courses), or too focused on the mechanics and too little on the routine-building strategy. So I took to Twitter and Facebook to ask whether someone had found an online resource that would help my students learn how to summarize journal articles. Here are a few suggestions:

a) Dr. Karen Beckwith (Case Western Reserve University) shared with me her handouts on critical reading. Professor Beckwith is incredibly generous and I’m sure she would share them with you if you requested them. They are very useful because they are tailored to each specific course she teaches. She also has a guideline on how to learn from movies.

b) John McMahon (CUNY) shared with me some of his handouts, which are posted online, including this one on critical reading and note-taking. John and I have a different view on highlighting journal articles, and I will write a blog post on this soon.

c) Tressie McMillan Cottom (Virginia Commonwealth University) shared with me her notes from a grad seminar with Regina Werum at Emory University. Professor McMillan Cottom’s notes are a summary of how to read a sociology article.

d) Dr. Neenah Luna-Estrella (NEU) suggested the following books to help students learn how to read and summarize scholarly (and not so scholarly) works. Not online resources, but still, very good ones.

Pyrczak, F. (2014). Evaluating research in academic journals (6th ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing.

Harris, R. A. (2011). Using Sources Effectively (3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrzak Publishing.

e) Online resources that I found valuable:
- University of the Fraser Valley Writing Centre’s guide to summarizing an article – this is particularly good because UFV is primarily undergraduate teaching.
- Donna Vandergrift ’s handout actually gives a guideline for students on which content should be written in each paragraph. This kind of detailed guidance is fundamental.
- This guide on how to read a journal article is a bit long, but it does have some additional references that you can look at.

f) Karra Kshimabukuro shared the guide to writing a Rhetorical Precis, which is a tool that others had suggested we should look at, and apparently, (what I call “analytical summaries” may be rhetorical precis too :) (thanks Theresa MacPhail for reminding me of this!)

I’m happy to continue compiling resources if you want to drop a comment on this post or send me an email (sometimes my commenting system isn’t the best).

Posted in academia, teaching, writing.

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