Virginia Montecino
George Mason University.
© Jan 1999
The construction and content of this assignment is the express property of Virginia Montecino. 
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Examination of the Writing Culture in Your Major

Write a technical report on your analysis of three different types of documents in your field written for various purposes.  Ideally, all three should be on the same subject, and should relate to the topic of your research paper.  You may use the same sources (if appropriate) in your research paper, but it is not required.

1) One must be a research paper with a reference page, published in a scholarly journal in your major.
2) One must be a Web-based document.
3) The third can be any type of print document other than a research paper or a Web document.

You will be analyzing the different approaches the authors use because of the different purposes and audiences for which the articles were written. It is NOT your purpose to decide if the writing is "bad" or "good" writing - don't set yourself up as on authority on writing in your field. You must cover all of the areas of analysis for each document. The areas of analysis :

a) Author's connection to the subject:  What is the author's connection to the subject?  What evidence can you find about the author's connection to or expertise in the subject?  Is there an indication of the author's credentials?  In what type of document are credentials important?  Is the author is not an authority in the subject, does she/he provide information from experts?  How can this give credibility to an article not written by an expert?  In what type of publication might articles by experts be expected?

b) Publication: The journal or Web site in which the article is published can give you clues about the audience. Do the journals or Web sites contain ads?  Describe the ads. What are they trying to sell? What does this tell you about the interests of the readers?  Try to get the full journal, not just a copy of the article. How an article is situated in the publication can say a lot about audience, purpose, etc. What's the title? Do the other articles give you any clues about the audience?  Do all the articles deal with variations on a particular subject or a particular area of scholarship? Are the articles written on a variety of subjects?  What do these clues tell you about audience and purpose?
Provide evidence to support your points.

c) Title of document: Does the title give you a good picture of what the document will be about? Does the title seek to attract the audience, or is it strictly informative? Analyze what you think is the significance of the treatment of the title. What do these clues tell you about audience and purpose? Provide evidence to support your points.

d) Purpose of the document: What do you think the author's purpose is? For example, is the author proposing a plan of action, trying to sell a product, a service? Is the author explaining a process or concept, sharing the results of scholarly research, writing an efficiency report, summarizing the findings at a conference, writing documentation for a product? What clues form your opinion? What do these clues tell you about audience and purpose? Provide evidence to support your points.

e) Language and tone: Is the document written in highly specialized language that professionals in a field use to communicate with one another?  Or is the tone informal, personal or contain humor?   Does the author/s use "I"?  Does the author relate personal experience? Is there a human interest angle in the document or is it strictly scientific or theoretical? What do these clues tell you about audience and purpose? Provide evidence to support your points.

f) Graphics: What kinds of images, graphics, charts does the document contain?  What clues do they give you about audience and purpose? Describe the various graphics, if any.  Do they provide human interest and/or attempt to induce an emotional response?  Are they scientific?  do they provide statistical information? What do these clues tell you about audience and purpose? Provide evidence to support your points.

g) Format: How is the document organized? Even if there are no obvious keys such as headings, 
all texts, ideally, have a logical organizational pattern which fits the purpose. Discuss the organizational pattern and relate it to purpose and audience. Does the article have a research/scientific format (abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, list of references)? 
Is the supporting detail and evidence cited in a scholarly fashion - in-text citations and a bibliography/reference page?  Or are the sources of the information in the article cited in a more informal way, more suited to a general audience or a non scholarly document? Is the text a technical report? Does the author use subheadings to organize his/her material? Are the subheadings designed to entice the reader or to inform? Does the text under the
subheadings fulfill what is advertised?  What do these clues tell you about audience and purpose? Provide evidence to support your points.

h) Credibility of document: Evaluate whether or not you think the particular document would be appropriate for a source in a research paper.  If so, why?  If not, why not?   Provide evidence to support your points. Criteria for evaluating Web sites (  General clues:

  • Is there any evidence that the author of the information has some authority in the field about which she or he is providing information?
  • Are there clues that the author/s are biased? For example, is he/she selling or promoting a product? Is the author taking a personal stand on a social/political issue or is the author being objective ? Bias is not necessarily "bad," but the connections should be clear.
  • In what kind of publication or Web site does the document reside?
  • Is the information current? Old news in science and technology, which changes rapidly, is particular troublesome. If the document resides on the Web is there a date of publication? Of there are a number of out-of-date links that do not work or old news, what does this say about the credibility of the information?
  • Is the information backed up with sources?
Format for your analysis:

Header information: Put your name, course and section, instructor's name and date at the top of your analysis.  Title your analysis: Analysis of  Three Documents in My Major.

Profile of Documents: List the three (3) documents in proper bibliographic format - APA.  Beneath each citation, include a brief summary of the subject of the article, its purpose, and the type of document.  Discuss why you chose these documents and what types of communication they represent. Then do a separate analysis of each document according to the criteria listed above. Analyze each in the same order in which it is introduced. Begin each separate analysis with the name of the article and the author.

Conclusion: Interpret your findings. Based on your analysis of the documents, draw some conclusions about some of  the kinds of writing produced in your major (taking into account, of course, that this is a small sampling and does not represent all possible forms of writing produced in your discipline). Also include what you learned by analyzing these documents. Did you learn anything new or add to your knowledge about your discipline? What value do you think these types of documents have in your field? What kinds of political implications can various documents have within a profession? What did you learn about writing for different audiences and purposes? 

Remember, it is NOT your purpose to decide if the writing is "bad" or "good" writing - don't set yourself up as on authority on writing in your field. But if you feel that, as a reader, you couldn't understand some of the documents because you are not yet a full member of this discourse community, or if you felt any of the documents were not clear to you for whatever reason, you can make that point and explain why. Address this kind of commentary from the "I" perspective.  It is one thing to say that "I" didn't understand the document and an entirely different thing to say "The document is confusing or unclear."  It may be confusing to you, but not to people who are professionals authorities in that field. Don't critique the documents as if you were giving the authors a "grade" or setting yourself up to show them how to write.

Copies of the documents: Turn in copies of the documents to me.  You can print out the Web document also. Be sure you have the correct Web address for your Web document. (If the documents are long research articles, send me representative pages - first page, reference page, sample of graphics pages, pages with sample text and in-text citation.)

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