11.06.2012

Book or Article Review

 

The purpose of a review is to introduce the reader to the main points of the source text (whether a book or article) and to give your response. The response will usually include a reflection on the points the text raises, as well as an evaluation of the text.

One clear way to structure a review is introduction > summary paragraphs > response paragraphs > conclusion.

In a longer review, however, it may be clearer to integrate your response into the summary, e.g. introduction > summary point > own response > summary point > own response etc. If you use this structure, it is important that you signal clearly when you are neutrally giving the view of the source writer and when you are giving your own view. This will involve markers such as, Smith states that... He also claims that... In my view, however,... I would argue that... etc.

In more detail, the various sections of a review include:

Introduction

Introduce the reader to the source, e.g. its main topic and aim. You may also already summarize an important general point that the reader needs to understand the source, e.g. a concept definition.

Yanghee and Jiyoung’s article, “Balancing a Genre and Process Approach” (2006), overviews two approaches to teaching academic writing which have become prominent in second language classrooms - namely the process versus the genre approach. The process approach, according to the authors, focuses on the act of writing as an individual cognitive process. It explores the stages of composition and deals mostly with self-expression in writing rather than form or structure. The genre approach, on the other hand, focuses on the genres of text that need to be produced, with an emphasis on audience and appropriateness in language and structure. The writers aim to find ways that these two approaches could be effectively combined, drawing from data gathered on an experimental academic writing course for English university students.

Summary paragraphs

Present the main points of the text coherently. You cannot include every detail from the source text or the review will become very dense and difficult to read. Instead, select the most relevant main points that you think represent the source well.

Remember that your summary should not stay on the surface of the source, i.e. only telling the reader what the source is about. Instead, you should actually explain the points that are raised in the text.

Bear in mind also that a clear paragraph usually involves just one overall point which is explained and supported. This same principle applies to a summary paragraph. For example:

Yanghee and Jiyoung point out that both process and genre approaches to teaching writing have disadvantages. Process writing can place too much emphasis on individual creativity, ignoring the social conventions that restrict text production and therefore failing to provide students with the structure and language support they need. However, the genre approach can be overly prescriptive. It can result in the writing equivalent of 'paint by numbers', leaving students with the impression that writing is purely formulaic, involving strict writing rules that cannot be criticized or adapted.

Response paragraphs

As with the summary paragraphs, your response should not stay on a surface level of the source (e.g. "it was well written"), but should also discuss the points that the source raises. This can involve, for example:

  •  explaining what you particularly agreed with or disagreed with and why
  •  explaining how the points might be useful
  •  making connections between this source and other sources
  •  making connections between the context of this source and other contexts
  •  adding your own ideas to expand on those given in the text.

Remember again to keep your paragraphing coherent; stick to one overall point per paragraph.

Example response paragraph:

I found Yanghee and Jiyoung's suggestion that teachers give their feedback on writing as audio recordings intriguing. This method could indeed be faster and more efficient for teachers than writing out their feedback. It may also be more effective. Some research (e.g. Bitchener, Young & Cameron 2005) suggests in fact that written feedback alone is relatively ineffective, as students are more likely to misunderstand or ignore impersonal written comments. Recorded oral feedback may overcome this problem due to its clarity and immediacy. From a practical perspective, however, there are clear constraints on how the suggestion could be applied. Few teacher have easy access to the equipment necessary to record and send digital audio files.

The response is also usually evaluative in some way. The idea is to give the reader a sense of whether you agree with the source's contents and whether you think the source is worthwhile. This may involve criticially examining e.g. the writer's logic, research methods involved, whether the text meets its aims etc.

Example critical paragraph:

Although the article summarizes and analyzes the process and genre approaches very clearly, its argument that the two approaches should be balanced seems rather obvious. It is surprising in fact that with such clear advantages and disadvantages, either approach would ever be applied exclusively. The article implied that practical suggestions would be given on how teachers might balance the two approaches, but instead the writers concentrate on supporting the argument that they should indeed be balanced. As a result, the reader is left with very little concrete advice.

Remember that criticism/evaluation is not necessarily negative. Negative criticism should be well supported.

Conclusion

In reviews, the conclusion is usually a brief summary of your overall opinion of the source.

In conclusion, Yanghee and Jiyoung give a clear and enlightening description of the process and genre methods in writing courses and arrive at the perhaps obvious viewpoint that balancing the two would be useful. They give few practical hints, however, on how this balance could be best achieved. My own view is that a social perspective on writing, e.g. encouraging students to analyze the purpose of their texts and the expectations of their reader, could easily be integrated into each stage of students' text development on a process writing course.