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Clarifying the assignment

[Note: I wrote this post for my other two sections, who are a little ahead of you. But my guess is it may be relevant for our class as well. Sorry for the length!]

Based on what I saw in the drafts this week, it seems clear we need to do some more work clarifying the expectations for this assignment. There were some positive things: for the most part, for instance, I was happy with the sources people were using. I think the research aspect of this assignment is coming along well. Unfortunately, though, many of these drafts were mostly informative summaries of tinformation on the topic, not a more critically minded literature review.

Broadly speaking, the difference between those two is that summaries simply state the information in your source. In a literature review, you're comparing sources, categorizing them, and thinking critically about their strengths and weaknesses. You give a lot more attention to the sources themselves, talking about them explicitly. Let me outline a few places where that came out.

#1-Thesis/Introduction
The first paragraph of your essay introduces your topic. In many cases, that introduction focused only on your topic--saying that the paper would provide more information on an important issue. Here's an example from a first paragraph:

Malnutrition is especially significant for children whom require a high calorie diet as a key building block to growth and development. Underweight is attributed to 53 percent of deaths in children (Onis 2600). There are children literally wasting away in some countries while children are grossly overweight in others. The international community and non-governmental organizations are working to end malnutrition with new ways to address the issue.

Note that here the focus is on malnutrition as an issue and what governments are doing. There's nothing about the actual research into this subject--whether it's focusing on agricultural, economic, or political factors for malnutrition, for example. That first paragraph sets the tone for your paper, and you need to think early on about describing how you see these sources fitting together. That doesn't mean that you couldn't say that many articles focus on the need for government action, but it needs to be the articles themselves that you ultimately focus on, not the larger issue.

#2 Critical thinking
Remember that when I'm talking about argument and critical reading with this assignment, I have two things in mind. First, I'm expecting you will look for connections between sources--places where they agree or differ, where they take a different perspective on an issue. You need to be explicit about those--don't just use the information from the source, but talk about them. "Source x approaches this issue by focusing on... In contrast, source y pays more attention to..."

Second, I'm also looking for you to think critically about these sources themselves, just as you did with your first paper. What strengths do you see in these studies, particularly in what they contribute to our understanding of the subject? What's left out of them, especially in comparison to other similar pieces? What important questions do they raise, but leave unanswered?

I'll give you another example:

Exercising through pregnancy is not only allowed, but typically encouraged by doctors. The type of exercise preformed may have to be modified to fit the woman’s body and the safety of the baby. 30 minutes three to four times a week is recommended and there is a large array of activities safe and affective during the nine months of pregnancy (Perinatal Care). Walking, swimming, stationary biking, prenatal aerobics classes are all good choices for expecting mothers (Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby). Exercises to avoid while pregnant are fairly aggressive sports. Skiing, rock climbing, horseback riding would all classify as dangers to the mother and baby (Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby). Also it is important to pay attention to body temperature while exercising. If the core temperature is too high, it can be detrimental to the baby. Stay hydrated and take breaks whenever necessary.

Here there's lots of information about the subject at hand. But it's all reported in a very factual, objective way. The sources themselves aren't talked about explicitly--how they approach the subject, the evidence they draw upon, how their perspectives are similar or different. Or even what's left out. It's just "information" here, without comment. Certainly, you'll have to do some summary in this paper, but I want to see your own voice there as well.

#3-Using more than one source for each topic
Obviously, in this piece, you're dealing with some fairly dense scholarly work. It can be hard to simply understand that, let alone create a critical response. Making sure you have multiple sources addressing an issue can really help with this. Especially with scholarly sources, there needs to be a reason for a new study/article/book on the subject. It's looking at the issue in some new way. So reading multiple studies/articles on a subject can help you see where there's room for different perspectives on a topic.

For some of you, this means narrowing your topic a bit. For example, someone might look at the role of peer groups in eating disorders, looking at children, adolescents, and middle age. But only one study on each. There's probably several studies available for each of those groups, though, and looking at more than one gives you a richer, multidimensional view of where the research is at on that subject. So narrowing down a bit, maybe leaving out a group but including multiple studies on others, might be a good solution.

One main goal for this assignment is for you to not just accept the results of a study, even a highly scientific one, without question. Just because a study says something, doesn't make it so. Don't just present what these sources say as fact--think about them. What do they leave out? What questions do they raise but not answer? How do they agree or disagree with one another? That's the kind of thinking I'm really looking for here.

I apologize for the long post here, but I feel it's important since we don't have class again before our next draft. Let me know if you have any questions about what I posted here.