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Critical Analysis

Introduction When lecturers and their students identify problems with academic writing, they usually infer an inability to think critically. Some students struggle through to the final year of their degree without really understanding how to critically analyse; yet achieving this capability will improve the quality of your written work and therefore your grades. If you are looking for an accessible text book, you should find Critical Thinking Skills by Stella Cottrell (2005, Palgrave Macmillan) extremely useful. In the meantime, some activities designed to help your analytical development are offered here. Being Academic All undergraduate and postgraduate assignments require an element of critical analysis but many students struggle to integrate an academic approach into their writing. In order to achieve and illustrate an appropriate level of analysis, students need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of arguments, theories and evidence and reach a more advanced conclusion than descriptive writing allows. Begin by considering some of the relevant concepts. What does the word academic mean to you? Construct a list of relevant ideas

Comparing Texts Although texts may cover similar content, they will differ in style depending on their genre, purpose and target audience. In learning to write academically, it is essential to understand and differentiate between those that employ subjective and emotive language and those which are more objective. Read the following texts and decide: Which is the most objective? Which, if any, use examples of emotive language? Can you distinguish facts from opinions? Remember
Beware

of opinions, generalizations & stereotypes that may be stated

as facts
The

aim of propaganda is to make people believe what writers want them to believe
Attempt

to understand the intention of the author

a) The Olympic torch came through here on its way to Sydney. Almost everyone was out to cheer it on, except those black people who could not see it, having been blinded by trachoma, a disease as old as the Bible. Australia is the only developed country on a World Health Organization shame list of countries where children are still blinded by trachoma. Impoverished Sri Lanka has beaten the disease, but not rich Australia. Once hunter-gatherers in their traditional society, Aborigines had exceptional vision; now watch the old people stumble, many of them wearing cheap glasses and wiping streaming eyes. According to the Director of the Centre for Eye research in Sydney, Professor Hugh Taylor, up to 80% of Aboriginal children have potentially blinding trachoma because of untreated cataracts. This is inexcusable he said. I accompanied an Aboriginal Medical Services team making a spot check of children in and around Kununurra. A third were found to have trachoma. At Doon Doon school, half the fifty-six children were diagnosed with the disease. What if these were white children? I asked Dr Alice Tippetts. She replied with a hand over her mouth; like Australian apartheid, it is the unspeakable. The disease is entirely preventable. An infection of the eyelids, it is spread in the conditions of poverty, such as overcrowding and lack of clean running water and sewerage. (Pilger, J. 2002 The New Rulers of the World London, Verso)

b)
Trachoma Trachoma Blindness A

was once endemic in North America and Europe but it has disappeared in these locations with the improvement of living standards is endemic in Africa , Asia , the Middle East , Latin America and aboriginal communities in Australia from any cause is associated with increased risk of mortality in endemic communities disease of poverty, trachoma has no racial preponderance
Trachoma

continues to occur in areas with poor personal and community hygiene e.g. communities with inadequate access to water and sanitation in hot, dry and dusty climates
Trachoma

most commonly occurs in the infectious pool i.e. pre-school children of both sexes and their (usually female) care providers http://www.emedicine.com/oph/topic118.htm (accessed 3/3/06)

c) Few people have heard of trachoma, a preventable disease that threatens to blind nearly 10% of people in rural communities where people live in overcrowded conditions with limited access to water. It is often overlooked as a priority for public-health intervention; in some communities, the disease is simply accepted as a fact of life. Yet trachoma is treatable and the suffering that it causes is avoidable. Trachoma is an infectious disease of the eye caused by a bacteria that spreads easily on a persons hands or clothing, or may be carried by flies that have come into contact with discharges from the eyes or nose of an infected person. Because trachoma is transmitted through close personal contact, it tends to occur in clusters often infecting entire families and communities. Trachoma is one of the oldest known infectious diseases, with references dating back to ancient Egypt. However, trachoma has virtually disappeared from the industrialized world thanks to improved sanitation and overall living. Trachoma continues to plague the developing world remaining endemic in the poorest regions of Africa, Asia, parts of Latin America and Australia. Currently, 8 million people are visually impaired as a result of trachoma and 84 million suffer from active infection. http://www.trachoma.org/trachoma.php (accessed 3/3/06)

Discussion You may think that the second piece of writing was more appropriate to the type of reading that is necessary at university. For example, it appears to be more factual and has a scientific source. In comparison, the first piece is more journalistic and uses emotive language such as now watch the old people stumble. However, the first author is a respected writer who makes wide use of medical sources. Therefore, both texts are informative and both are useful to some extent. The third piece seems to combine the styles of the previous two: it is more than a set of bullet points but does not become personalized in the way that we might argue the first does. Further, it originates from the organization that works specifically on the study of this particular disease. Consider whether this last fact makes the text authentic or biased. Reflect on the previous passages and activity and write a definition of:
A

Fact Opinion Argument

An An

When you feel happy with your answers, define and give an example of:
Objectivity Subjectivity Stereotype Emotive

Language

Academic Writing By now, you will have a good idea of the conventions used in academic writing. Below, you will find three brief extracts. Read them thoroughly and consider which best fits your understanding of academic writing. a) There was no sign of life when I arrived at 11. The curtains were drawn at all the windows and this was the only bungalow where there was no smoke from the chimney though this was a February morning. I knocked and banged and would have gone just as the door opened. Now then, what the f Its me. Mr Clough. Mr Clough from the school He was still trying hard to focus on me; something stirred in him, but he was very drunk still and he had woken up too quickly. He was rubbing fiercely at

his eyes, kneading the lids down so they creaked and they flashed red meat; and his blue chin rasped as his palms followed the work of his fingers. He was wearing a vest and brown trousers which he had spoiled somehow; there was a wet circle round his groin and then wet across one hip down to the knee. b) The category of quantity can be said to reveal a kind of essence, but only of the kind which is indifferently shared by members of a set which is defined by the discipline of the inquiry. But if the essential essence as Heidegger (1962:194) calls it is not characterized by a numerical account, it is equally true that words are not up to accomplishing its intuited aesthetic presence either. In any event, the relation between words and numbers is not one of mutual exclusion, and the opposition of the quantitative and the qualitative is expedient rather than real. c) Industry within urban areas has changed its location over time. In the early 19th century it was usually cited within city centres, e.g. textile firms, slaughter houses and food processing. However, as the Industrial Revolution saw the growth in size and number of factories, and later when shops began to compete for space in the city centre, industry moved centrifugally outwards into what today is the inner city. Until the 1980s this zone had increasingly become one of industrial decline as older, traditional industries closed down and others moved to the edge of city sites. In Britain, recent changes in government policy have led to attempts to regenerate industry in these areas through initiatives such as Enterprise Zones.

Discussion When these activities were piloted with two groups of students, most of them dismissed the first piece, claiming it was written as part of a story and followed none of the academic conventions. Many students believed that the second piece was definitely academic, because a) it was referenced appropriately and b) they didnt understand it. A few students also thought the third piece constituted academic writing as it is objective and reasonably factual. In fact, the first two pieces were written by the same author and come from the same book (Clough, P. 2002 Narratives & Fictions in Educational Research Open University Press: Buckingham); therefore, they both comprise academic writing. However, the author purposely uses a descriptive and colourful style of writing to illustrate the family backgrounds of the children he is researching. Conversely, in his analytical writing, he employs a style that we might traditionally associate with academia. Unfortunately, many students dislike this mode of writing because it is difficult to understand. The third piece is also academic, coming as it does from a geography text book. However, it has been written for GCSE students, hence not really appropriate for undergraduate level. Reading and Understanding In order to employ critical awareness, it is essential that you try to develop the skill of interpreting texts sufficiently well to be able to make academic observations. Read the following account of one aspect of community care for mentally ill people in Montreal. Foster homes offer pleasant friendly supportive services, but the price of entry is compliance with a particular type of rule-bound environment. In contracting out this segment of the patient population, psychiatric services have managed to maintain many of the features of the medical regime they are phasing out. In particular, they are able to enforce medication regimes that are a problem in other strands of community provision, stable living environments and some experimentation with levels of independence coupled with flexibility and a home like atmosphere asylums were not able to provide. Although foster homes operate as an extension of medical regimes, they are private, individually brokered arrangements paid for out of welfare benefits. Those who operate them are not mental health professionals, but women situated in varied family contexts subscribing to many versions of their clients and the meaning and nature of the client relationship. It is a feature of the privatization of care that its social relationships and roles cut loose from professional training and framing are reinvented. Private care is also very varied in its quality and difficult to regulate so as to ensure quality. Clients also have poor protection from the demands of landladies/carers and the effectiveness of the system relies on them being reasonable and compassionate people. They are

nevertheless people who run their home as part of a business and who have not received any special training in dealing with the mad although, of course, this is not necessarily a disadvantage. It rather depends on how they conduct themselves and the kind of regime they run. (Knowles, C. 2000 Bedlam on the Streets London: Routledge p.45) Close Reading Did you really understand the text? Now try a close reading. Below, you will find the individual sentences comprising this paragraph. Paraphrase each sentence in turn. This activity will test your reading and analytical skills. The first sentence has been done for you. Foster homes offer pleasant friendly supportive services, but the price of entry is compliance with a particular type of rule-bound environment. Paraphrase: In order to gain the benefits of a foster home, one must be prepared to abide by rules & regulations In contracting out this segment of the patient population, psychiatric services have managed to maintain many of the features of the medical regime they are phasing out. Paraphrase: In particular, they are able to enforce medication regimes that are a problem in other strands of community provision, stable living environments and some experimentation with levels of independence coupled with flexibility and a home like atmosphere asylums were not able to provide. Paraphrase: Although foster homes operate as an extension of medical regimes, they are private, individually brokered arrangements paid for out of welfare benefits. Paraphrase: Those who operate them are not mental health professionals, but women situated in varied family contexts subscribing to many versions of their clients and the meaning and nature of the client relationship. Paraphrase: It is a feature of the privatization of care that its social relationships and roles cut loose from professional training and framing are reinvented. Paraphrase: Private care is also very varied in its quality and difficult to regulate so as to ensure quality. Clients also have poor protection from the demands of landlady/carers and the effectiveness of the system relies on them being

reasonable and compassionate people. Paraphrase: They are nevertheless people who run their home as part of a business and who have not received any special training in dealing with the mad although, of course, this is not necessarily a disadvantage. It rather depends on how they conduct themselves and the kind of regime they run. Paraphrase: Discussion Of course, you cannot be expected to read every single text in this much depth. However, in completing the previous activity, you may have found that its not as easy to put ideas into your own words as you may have thought. Further, the alternative is to quote large chunks of text which eat into your word count and annoy your tutors who want to read your writing. Therefore, when you come across an important perspective or theory in your literature search, its worth taking the time to read it thoroughly because you cant discuss or analyse something that you dont understand and are unable to explain. Incidentally, this last point can also be applied to an interpretation of assignment titles: its essential to show the marker at an early stage that you understand what is being asked of you before you offer your critical analysis. Intellectual Analysis Once you have understood the text, you can begin to employ deeper critical awareness by applying some of the intellectual standards which are: Clarity; Accuracy; Precision; Relevance; Depth; Breadth; Logic; Significance; Fairness
Does Is Is

the author say clearly what she means?

the author accurate in what she says? the author sufficiently precise in providing relevant details? the author retain her purpose or provide irrelevant material? the writing deep enough or superficial? the authors perspective narrow or are other views considered? the text consistent or are the arguments illogical? the author make significant or trivial points? the author deal with the content fairly?

Does Is Is Is

Does Does

(Adapted from www.criticalthinking.org)

If you find these standards useful, you could apply them when reading through your own assignments!

Now use some or all of these suggestions and those you have previously worked through to critically analyse the following academic literature: The egg & the sperm: knowledge as ideology At a fundamental level, all major scientific textbooks depict male and female reproductive organs as systems for the production of valuable substances, such as eggs and sperm. In the case of women, the monthly cycle is described as being designed to produce eggs and prepare a suitable place for them to be fertilized and grown all to the end of making babies. But the enthusiasm ends there. By extolling the female cycle as a productive enterprise, menstruation must necessarily be viewed as a failure Male reproductive physiology is evaluated quite differently. One of the texts that see menstruation as failed production employs a sort of breathless prose when it describes the maturation of the sperm. Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of spermatogenesis is its sheer magnitude: the normal human male may manufacture several hundred million sperm a day. In the classic text Medical Physiology, edited by Vernon Mountcastle, the malefemale productive-destructive comparison is more explicit: Whereas the female sheds only a single gamete each month, the seminiferous tubules produce hundreds of millions of sperm each day. The female author of another text marvels at the length of the seminiferous tubules, which, if uncoiled and placed end to end, would span almost one-third of a mile!.. ..How is it that positive images are denied to the bodies of women? A look at the language in this case, scientific language provides the first clue. Take the egg and the sperm. It is remarkable how femininely the egg behaves and how masculinely the sperm. The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey but passively is transported, is swept, or even drifts along the fallopian tube. In utter contrast, sperm are small, streamlined, and invariably active. They deliver their genes to the egg, activate the developmental programme of the egg, and have a velocity that is often remarked upon. Their tails are strong and efficiently powered. Together with the forces of ejaculation, they can propel the semen into deepest recesses. (Martin,E. The egg and the sperm: knowledge as ideology in Gergen, M. and Gergen, K. 2003 Social Construction: a reader Sage London)

And finally..Are You an Academic Writer? If you have: Taken a text at face value Made assumptions without checking Given information which is misleading/incorrect Failed to offer competing perspectives Written a straight description You have NOT completed a critical analysis!

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Common Features of Academic Writing


Use

formal English

Avoid

giving your opinion unless asked to. Always back opinions with evidence
Check Follow Be

the validity of source material an argument logically

emotionally neutral

Avoid Make Use Be

use of the 1st person unless writing a reflective assignment (e.g. based on experience) a decision based on evidence arguments to develop a perspective compare, contrast & evaluate an awareness of complexities

objective

Think, Show

Stand back from how you see things normally. Be a critical thinker! Source: http://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/study_support/criticalanalysisweb.html

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