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Critical Reading Summary

Critical reading is an important skill, and reading summaries are designed to facilitate close and critical reading of the assigned essays. Summaries are due approximately every third week of class (see the syllabus for exact due dates), and you may select any of the readings from the prior 3 weeks for your summary. I suggest that you try to pick an essay that you particularly enjoyed, or else one that you really disliked (if you were apathetic about the reading, it will be difficult to write an interesting review!).

Reading summaries are short (300-600 word) highly-focused reviews. The entire assignment must fit on one side of a single piece of paper (good reviews will usually use most of the available page). You may single space and use any reasonable-sized font (> 11 pt., I’m nearsighted!), but if your review is longer than one page, you’ll need to pare it down.

In an initial paragraph, give a full citation for the reading (e.g., title, author, year of publication, and source). Use the internet to find out a little bit more about the author (can you find their home page, bio, or CV?). Give the author's affiliation or credentials: who are they, and how well are they qualified (or not) to write about this particular subject? What about the source? Is it academic or popular? Does the organization publishing the essay seem to have any hidden agenda?

In a second paragraph, summarize the main points of the reading. You don’t have enough space to summarize everything, and you shouldn’t try. Abstracting is the art of identifying and distilling the most important points—to provide a concise, accurate, and readable summary.

In a third paragraph, describe the major strength(s), any weakness(es), and give your own opinion of the reading. It is especially important in this section to try to be critical (if you essentially agree with the author), or to try to empathize (if you strongly disagree). The rare argument is utterly brilliant, and quite a few more are utter rubbish, but more often these conclusions indicate that it is the gentle reader (ahem…you) who is being dogmatic. The vast majority of ethical arguments contain both strengths and weaknesses, and the mark of a good critic is the ability to identify both.

In a final short paragraph, state why you think I assigned this particular reading. How does the essay tie in with what we’ve been discussing in lecture, or with previous readings? What do you think I wanted you to take away from this particular reading?