Essay #4: Critically Reading and Evaluating Original Scholarship
Purpose of Assignment
The fourth program learning outcome (PLO) for the Communication Studies major at San Francisco State is that its majors can read critically and evaluate original scholarship. This essay allows you to explain what primary/original scholarship means and how you critically read and evaluated original scholarship within your major.
In 4.5 to 5 pages (typed, double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-pt font), write an essay that adheres to the following content guidelines.
1. Your first paragraph should state that the ability to read critically and evaluate primary scholarship is central to the Communication Studies major at SFSU. You should then explain what “primary scholarship” refers to and how it differs from secondary sources.
2. Your second paragraph should make clear that there are different types of primary scholarship (e.g., books, book chapters, research articles, performances, legal decisions) and then explain what it means to read critically and evaluate primary scholarship.
3. Your third paragraph should explain why it is important to be able to read critically and evaluate primary sources.
4. In the remainder of your essay (3-4 pages), you should identify a specific assignment for a course in which you read critically and evaluated primary scholarship, summarize the content of the primary scholarship you read in detail, and summarize your evaluation of the primary scholarship.
5. Be sure to provide closure to your essay.
** See the sample Scholarship essay within this iLearn Assignment Book.
Within the Communication Studies major at San Francisco State, I developed the ability to read critically and evaluate primary scholarship. Primary scholarship refers to original work. Examples of primary scholarship in Communication Studies include research studies published as academic articles, books and book chapters by originators of theories or research, as well as performances created by scholars, and even original legal decisions regarding communication law. Primary scholarship (or primary sources) differ from secondary sources, which offer summaries or interpretations of the original. In others words, a secondary source, such as a textbook or newspaper article, summarizes communication scholarship, but the primary source is the original, unedited work.
Reading primary scholarship critically means being able to break it down and fully understand the creator’s goals, processes, and meanings. For example, when reading original research, critically reading means being able to articulate the focus of the research, the specific methods that were used, and the results of the research. Critically reading also means being able to explain why the particular research methods make sense given the researcher’s goals and why the results might be the case. For example, in one of my classes we read a research article that found younger, middle-age, and older couples communicate differently during conflict. Reading critically means understanding that finding, but also being able to explain why it might be the case.
Evaluating primary scholarship means being able to explain what it achieves as well as its limitations. For example, the research study I mentioned regarding couples’ conflict behavior was conducted with primarily White participants, and all participants were in heterosexual relationships. It is possible that cultural differences could impact conflict communication, so although the research was well-conducted and produced interesting results, the knowledge is incomplete until more research is conducted that includes diverse participants. Evaluating primary scholarship means that I can see limitations and advocate for future research to address those limitations.
The ability to read critically and evaluate primary scholarship is significant. Thanks to the internet, we all have access to more information than we could possibly ever read or view, but not all of that information is accurate or truthful. Knowing the difference between primary and secondary sources means that I do not have to take what others say at face value. I can search out original, credible sources of information. Being able to read critically means that I can make sense of complex ideas, understanding underlying assumptions and the logic of an argument. Being able to evaluate primary sources means that I can also ask questions and see where our knowledge is still incomplete.
One example of my ability to read critically and evaluate primary scholarship is a literature review I wrote for my COMM 321GWAR class. “GWAR” stands for Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement. COMM 321GWAR focused on the topic of communication theory as well as writing for the Communication Studies major. In that class, I utilized primary communication scholarship to write a literature review regarding the portrayal of female athletes in diverse media.
My literature review required me to read, then summarize and synthesize, four primary, peer-reviewed academic journal articles regarding my topic. Each source reported original research. Some focused on detailed comparisons of how male and female athletes are portrayed in the media. For example, one team of researchers focused on how commentators differently described male and female athletes during the 2000 Final Four men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Other researchers focused specifically on how female athletes are portrayed. For example, one author focused on how members of the 2004 women’s Olympic soccer team were sexualized by media reports. All of the research regarding media portrayals of female athletes led to my thesis that media often focus on their appearance and social characteristics, rather than celebrating their athletic abilities and achievements.
To critically read the primary sources for my literature review, I had to clearly identify the focus of each article, the specific methods the researcher or researchers used, and their specific findings. I then had to summarize the focus, methods, and findings in my own words and eventually synthesize the summaries. I synthesized the research by creating two main sections in my literature review—research focusing on the frequency of mediated portrayals of female athletes, and research focusing on the nature of the portrayals.
Research regarding the frequency of portrayals of female athletes in media indicates that female athletes are reported on less frequently and are positioned as less important than male athletes. For example, in one study that analyzed over 500 print newspaper articles focused on athletes, almost 74% of the coverage focused on male athletes. Particularly interesting was that when photographs of athletes appeared, male athletes were most often shown engaged in their sport, while female athletes were rarely shown engaged in their sport. Not only are female athletes underrepresented, they are presented as pretty objects to look at, not as powerful, capable athletes.
Research focusing on how female athletes are portrayed by media suggests they are often objectified and presented within traditional gender roles. For example, one study focused on print and televised media coverage of the 1999 U.S. women’s soccer team found strong emphasis on these athletes as wives, mothers, and daughters, rather than on their athletic abilities and accomplishments. Another study focused on portrayals of Caster Semenya, who was the winner of the 2009 World Championship women’s 800-meter race and was later subjected to gender testing. Subsequent portrayals of Semenya featured her in “feminine” and alluring clothing and poses, objectifying Semenya and reinforcing a gender binary.
To evaluate the primary research that I read and synthesized, I had to think beyond what the researchers had done. I had to consider what was missing from the research and what else researchers could do to expand knowledge regarding this topic. I suggested that studies could focus on sport-specific networks, such as ESPN, to compare coverage of male and female athletes. I also suggested that future research might compare how an athlete’s race intersects with sex to impact media portrayals. Are Black and White female athletes portrayed differently in the media, for example?
By learning how to critically read primary scholarship, I am able to go to the original source for an idea. I can break down a primary source’s focus, method, and findings to explain it in my own words, as well as explain how multiple sources regarding a topic combine to create understanding of a topic. Critically reading primary scholarship helps me think like a researcher. I am also able to evaluate what is missing from a body of research and propose questions of my own.
You can earn up to 20 points for this assignment, based on the degree to which you clearly address and fully develop the parts of the essay as well as the quality of your writing. This essay will become part of the central focus of your ePortfolio. You want to represent yourself well; therefore, the quality of your writing is especially important. Edit and proofread carefully!!! Be clear and accurate.
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