Best practices: Analyzing references in academic writing
Students will find a scholarly article and analyze how it makes use of references.
This activity is designed to improve students' ability to read, research, and write in academic contexts by understanding the roles of citation plays in scholarly writing.
- Find and read an academic article (at least 7 pages) on a topic of interest and/or relevance to the course.
- State the author's thesis in a sentence or two.
- Note how the author places the thesis in context by stating what previous studies have shown, or how they have been inadequate or incomplete. Give an example of one such reference.
- Note how the author uses the works and observations of other scholars to help advance the thesis. Give an example of one such reference.
- Note how you could find additional sources of information from this article by looking at the list of works cited and seeing how the author uses these works in the article. Give an example of at least two of the following kinds of works: a) a book that gives a broader treatment of the article's topic (or some aspect thereof); b) an article on a similar topic; c) a book or article from a different academic discipline than the author's.
- Consider suggesting that students use the Academic Search Complete database to find an article unless they have done prior research in your field.
- In Academic Search Complete, users can a) limit the search to scholarly articles b) further limit the search by number of pages (e.g., "greater than 6")
- Occasionally, even when the search is limited to scholarly or academic articles, some inappropriate citations still occur. Make sure students know to look for notes/references and a bibliography or list of works cited as the birthmark of academic writing.
- This assignment is designed for students with minimal experience in academic research. They should be allowed some leeway to browse the available literature rather than fixing on too specific a subject in advance, e.g., rather than searching for "Biblical Allusions in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom," they should just search for "Absalom, Absalom" or "William Faulkner."
- The reading/analysis portion of this exercise can be done as an in-class exercise where the instructor distributes a good academic article appropriate to the course content. Students perform the tasks and discuss the results. One could do the in-class exercise in place of the assignment or as a way of introducing the assignment.