(200 points; 20%)
Description: This assignment is intended to help you develop your ability to read and evaluate scholarly writing. It asks you to engage closely with two readings over the course of the semester and to take responsibility for guiding your classmates through these readings. Each reading response is worth 10% of your final grade and you will sign up for specific readings in class. This assignment has two components:
- Write a 700-word essay—about two-and-a-half pages—that first summarizes the reading in a concise, objective, and fair manner and then presents your response to the reading. See below for details on what your summary and response should include. You will read this essay out aloud in class (if you prefer, I can read it out instead) and will post it to the course website by 10pm on the day before class.
- Annotate the reading online on the course website by 5pm on the day before class. Your annotations are intended help your classmates understand and engage with the reading by highlighting the structure of the essay and the author’s argument. Thus, they should also help you write your response essay. Your annotation of the reading should:
- Identify the author’s thesis and main claims
- Identify examples of the evidence that the author provides to support their claim
- Identify the key theoretical concepts and methodology used by the author and, in at least one instance, link to a reliable scholarly online resource that further explains these concepts or methodology
- Link to at least one piece of media (image, video, gif etc.) that illustrates the author’s thesis.
- Link to at least one contemporary news story that is connected to the reading.
- And, finally, identify at least two passages in the reading that are unclear or provocative and that you would like to discuss further in class.
Writing the response essay:
In order to write a good analysis and response to the reading, you have to first learn how to read scholarly articles. Academic writing in media studies may be a style of writing that is new to you, so I ask you to approach these readings in a spirit of generosity and openness. Try and engage with the readings on their own terms and figure out how they are structured. The tips below are meant to help you with this process. Some of these tips may be familiar to you from previous writing courses and some may be new. The tips are divided into two sections: the reading process and the writing process.
The Reading Process:
Remember that the reading analyses are essentially a way to demonstrate that you have carefully read and engaged with the article. By succinctly summarizing the article’s central argument and methodology, you will hone your analytical reading and writing skills. Thus, instead of thinking of the assignment as a traditional paper, think of it as an extension of the reading process. One of the most valuable lessons you can learn is that close and productive reading (whether it is for a class or job) doesn’t mean simply reading through the information. To really get at the information, especially when it is more complex than your average newspaper article, you must interact with it. To that end, I’d urge you to follow these steps in reading all of the articles for this class, not just those for which you have to do formal responses.
- Read through the article for a first time.
- As you go, underline or highlight key sentences where the author seems to be making their main points.
- Identify its methodology (how the author actually conducts their analysis).
- Circle terms you don’t understand or are uncertain about. Look them up in a dictionary. It is amazing how much this helps.
- Put a question mark in the margins where you get confused by the argument.
- Read through the essay again.
- With a notebook at your side, write down the main argument, the main supporting points, and its methodology. [You can also simply do this online as part of your annotation of the reading.]
- If the article is well written, it should have a strong method of organization. Try to uncover what it is.
- Ask yourself what the goal of this section is (or this paragraph). Doing so often helps understand the way the author is constructing his/her argument.
- Write down in the notebook the points that you found most insightful and those that still confuse you.
If you do these steps, writing your analysis will be easy. Simply go over your notes, the passages you have highlighted/underlined in the text, and your margin comments.
The Writing Process
Your response essay should have the following four sections:
- Start your response essay by presenting a very brief summary of the article. Your summary should address the following:
- What is the question or puzzle being addressed in this reading?
- What is the author’s thesis?
- What are the author’s main points?
- What kind of reasoning and evidence does the author present in support of his/her argument?
- Who do you think is the audience for this article? Is the author building on previous work? Or, is s/he disagreeing with previous scholars?
- State your own thesis about the reading. This should be one sentence that sums up your assessment of the author’s central argument.
- The body of your response essay should explain and support your thesis. Did the author develop his/her argument in a convincing manner? What evidence did s/he provide in support of the central argument? Did s/he address counter-arguments or objections?
- Finally, in your conclusion, connect this reading either to outside material or to other readings that we have done. What is the author’s contribution to the scholarship on this topic? What did you learn from this reading?
Format and Grading
You will share your Reading Response with your classmates by annotating the reading (by 5pm on the day before class) and by posting the essay on the course website (by 10pm on the day before class). You will also bring a hard copy of your essay to class. This hard copy should be written in 12-point font with 1-inch margins. Please make sure to write your name, the course number, my name, the date, the name of the assignment (e.g. “Reading Response 2”), and your word count at the top of the page. Going 50 words over or under the word limit is acceptable, but you will be marked down for response essays that are significantly longer or shorter than the word limit. Proofread your paper. Numerous typos or grammatical errors will result in a lower grade. Always cite the source for any quotes or ideas taken from your readings. Use APA style for citations and for your bibliography. See the Online Writing Lab (see the Resources page on the website) for guidelines on how to cite any kind of source material (e.g. an article from a journal, an episode of a television series, a chapter in a book etc.). The Brooklyn College Learning Center is also an excellent resource for assistance with writing. It is located in 1300 Boylan Hall.
As noted on the syllabus, your Reading Response will be marked down by one grade (e.g. B to B-) for each day that it is late. However, if you turn the essay in on time, you will have a chance to revise it and the new grade will replace the old one. You have one week from to revise the essay from when I return it to you. You must attach the original with my comments on it along with the revised version.
Tips on identifying the topic, thesis, main points, and evidence
The topic of a reading is the issue or idea or content area that the author is addressing. For example, the topic of the Introduction to Television and American Culture can be described as:
“Mittell first explains why television is worthy of close analysis and study and identifies six crucial functions of television. He then also provides a brief explanation of the structure and scope of the whole book.”
Note that this description does not say what Mittell’s argument is about why television is worth studying and neither does it say what the six crucial functions are. It simply tells us what the chapter is about.
The thesis of an article or chapter is the main claim made in that reading. In other words, the thesis is always forwarding an argument of some kind—it is never purely descriptive (on the other hand, the topic statement is always only descriptive).
- The thesis should always be expressed as a single complete sentence.
- The author may actually state his/her thesis clearly in this form in the reading. If she/he does this, you may simply quote the author’s own words. (Be sure to give the page number for the quote!)
- The thesis should always have the following structure: topic + assertion + reason
- If you are writing the thesis yourself, it should take the following form:
“In this article/chapter, the author argues that [text/issue/idea] has [a certain relationship to the social context/industrial context/other texts/etc.] because of [reasons to support your argument].”
“In this chapter, the author argues that [Queer Eye for the Straight Guy] [reflected mainstream American culture’s ambivalence towards gay men] because [even though it represented four gay men it did so only to show them as talented consumers who were content to accept a supporting role in relation to straight men.]”
Finally, keep in mind that any reading will inevitably make several claims. Your task is to identify the central claim being made, the one that connects all the points being made in that reading.
The main points of a reading should directly follow from and support the thesis statement. The main points of a reading should reveal its organization and how the author has structured the development of their argument. For example, for the thesis statement given above, the three main points could be:
- Queer Eye for the Straight Guy represents gay men as talented consumers by showing them giving advice to straight men on how to improve their lives by using the right products.
- Queer Eye for the Straight Guy shows the four main characters happily working to improve the straight guy’s romantic life without ever making reference to their own lives.
- Queer Eye for the Straight Guy therefore legitimates the subordinate role of gay men in relation to straight men.
Note that each main point is written like and functions as a mini thesis statement for one section of the paper. Most well-written articles/chapters will have between 3 and 5 main points. As with the thesis statement, your task is to differentiate between a main point and a smaller subordinate point that is not absolutely central to the argument.
“Evidence” can mean different things in different disciplines. In the field of Media Studies, evidence (or to put it more generally, material that supports the argument being made) is generally of three kinds:
- Factual. This could include statistics such as ratings data, survey or poll results, content analysis of television programs, as well as data such as program budgets, scheduling decisions, information about distribution deals, the text of a FCC regulation etc. etc. For example, if I claim that “The Cosby Show was the most-watched television program in American history” I would need to back that up with solid ratings data.
- Scholarly Research. This simply means that I cite the conclusions or arguments of experts in the field such as academics, media professionals, policy makers etc. For example, instead of having to watch all the episodes of The Cosby Show myself in order to make a point about the most common storylines on the show, I could simply say: “The Cosby Show tended to focus on everyday family issues rather than taking on more serious political issues (John Doe, 1990, p. 32).” Here, Doe’s status as an expert on The Cosby Show acts as evidence to support my claim.
- Examples. This kind of evidence helps support your argument by providing illustrations to clarify and support your point by giving concrete examples. Examples could include bits of dialogue from a TV program that illustrate your claim about the themes of the program; examples of camera work or lighting; names of different programs that all fall within a certain genre to illustrate the popularity of a genre; or, even, quotes from media professionals (such as directors, actors, writers, network executives, advertising agencies etc.) that support your point. For example, if I made the claim that “The Cosby Show was in large part responsible for the revival of family sitcoms on American television” I could give examples that showed that in the years following The Cosby Show, the top-rated sitcoms were all family sitcoms as compared to the period before The Cosby Show aired. Or, I could quote influential television executives saying things like, “We, at CBS saw NBC’s success with The Cosby Show and decided to focus on family sitcoms for next season.”
 This section is taken with permission from a similar assignment developed by Ron Becker.