Posted in English 1103, Teaching

ENG 1103: A Starting Point for Analysis

Introducing Sources with Signal Phrases

Today in class, you identified one of the ideas expressed by three of the education experts featured in Matt Richtel’s article “Blogs vs. Term Papers”: Douglas B. Reeves, William H. Fitzhugh, and Andrea A. Lunsford. Collaboratively, you paraphrased each idea in a sentence that began with the person’s name and credential. As a model, I offered the example below.

Example: Professor Cathy N. Davidson of the City University of New York maintains that blogging offers students a more relevant alternative to the traditional term paper (ctd. in Richtel).

The abbreviation “ctd.” lets readers know that the idea is cited, or mentioned, in Matt Richtel’s article.

Indirect Quotations

If I had quoted Davidson, rather than paraphrasing her, the abbreviation “qtd.,” for “quoted,” would appear in parentheses to indicate that I quoted Davidson. Both a paraphrase of Davidson’s words drawn from Richtel’s article, and a direct quotation of her words drawn from Richtel’s article are referred to as indirect quotations because Davidson is a source who is cited or quoted in another source (Richtel).

In our discussion of Richtel’s article, I noted that Davidson was a professor at Duke at the time the article was published in The New York Times. One student asked how a writer should address such a change. One option is an explanatory endnote; you can also include it in the sentence itself, as I do in the example that follows.

Example: As a professor at Duke, Cathy N. Davidson turned to blogs to offer students a more relevant alternative to the traditional term paper (ctd. in Richtel). Now at the City University of New York, she continues to embrace new technologies.

When to Paraphrase, When to Quote

I could have asked you to quote Reeves, Fitzhugh, and Lunsford, but putting their ideas into your own words requires more thought, and more specifically moves you closer to analysis. As the authors of your textbook note: “You will almost invariably begin to interpret a source once you start paraphrasing its key language” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 221).

Summary and Analysis

A summary objectively presents key points; it answers the question, what is it? An analysis answers the questions, what does it mean, and how is its meaning constructed?

Here is the summary that I wrote in my notebook after I read Matt Richtel’s article.

In “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” Matt Richtel reports on the debate in higher education on how best to teach writing in the digital age. While some professors have followed the lead of City University of New York’s Cathy Davidson, replacing the traditional term paper with shorter, more frequent blog assignments, their detractors—including Douglas B. Reeves, columnist for The American School Board Journal and William H. Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review—argue that blog writing lacks the academic rigor that fosters critical thinking. For Andrea Lunsford, professor of writing at Stanford University, pitting blogs against term papers creates a false opposition. Rather than replacing term papers with blog posts, Lunsford requires students to produce multi-modal assignments: term papers that evolve into blogs, websites, and video presentations.

Summarizing the key points of the article led me to think about the article’s structure, how Richtel presents Davidson’s ideas followed by Reeves’ and Fitzhugh’s, returns to Davidson’s, introduces Lunsford’s, and ends by returning again to Davidson’s. In the 9:15 class we considered this possible interpretation of Richtel’s choices:

  • By devoting more of his article to Davidson’s and Lunsford’s practices–and ultimately giving Davidson the last word–Matt Richtel reveals that he favors their approaches to teaching writing over the ideas advocated by Reeves and Fitzhugh.

In the 10:40 class, we considered that interpretation as well as a second one:

  • Matt Richtel devotes more of his article to Davidson’s and Lunsford’s practices–and ultimately gives Davidson the last word–because she and Lundsford are innovators. Richtel doesn’t need to detail ideas that are already familiar to his readers.

Both are valid claims; the success of either depends on how effectively the writer presents evidence as support.

Logical Fallacies

Richtel’s article “Blogs vs. Term Papers” mentions two common types of logical fallacies to avoid:

  • Reductio ad absurdum is a form of the straw man argument. It involves oversimplifying an opponent’s argument by reducing it to an absurdity.
  • False opposition or false dichotomy implies that two possibilities are mutually exclusive. Richtel’s headline–in all likelihood written by a copy editor rather than himself–indicates a false dichotomy. (A term paper can be presented as a blog post.) False opposition is one form of hasty generalization.

For more on logical fallacies, see Writing Analytically, 93-97.

Next Up

This Friday, August 27, will mark the first of our weekly Wordplay Days. To prepare for class, read the Scrabble Rules and review the Ground Rules for Wordplay posted on Blackboard (and below). To up your game, browse the Scrabble site’s Tips and Tools.

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