Morgan's Notes on Abstracts-Critiques


Abstract-Critiques are not an essay, so you're not aiming at a) demonstrating or arguing a point, b) coming to a final conclusion, c) engaging a general reader. It's an abstract and critique of another's work, so you need to stand clear of their work. What connects or impresses is the deftness and sophistication of the connections you can make between the ideas of the work you're reading and what we're studying as a group.

In short: Not about you. Not about stylistics. About ideas. You manage the connections.

Unasked For Advice

Assume a critical stance: One outside the rhetorical interaction. Respond not as an immediate (unmediated) reader in the middle of reading, but from a balcony view: post reading.

The abstract = a description of the article, and it needs to be
Your critique, then, builds on the fair, neutral, &c abstract and draws in or applies another way of understanding the phenomena. That is, How would Ong look at this? How do Ede&Lundsford look at this? Until you get more reading behind you, making the connect will be tricky. It will come.

Critique, for our use, can stay with analysis of the work and interpretation of its significance. Your critique doesn't have to move to evaluation. It can just end. If you want to rant, do so under a separate heading.

You don't need an intro, just start with the centerpiece of the summary/abstract.

You don't need a conclusion, but you do need a way of ending and leading into more discussion. Opening out rather than closing down.

People tend to summarize by arranging the summary in the same order the piece is arranged. Better to organize a summary/abstract is by the significance of ideas or dominance of argument, not by order of presentation in the original. Again, stand outside the sequence the ideas were presented in.

Example

L&E argue that audience is best thought of as a synthesis of an actual, physical audience addressed, and a cognitively constructed audience that the writer invokes. Not one nor the other, but both.

You have to get to this kind of summative centerpiece as a starting point, which probably requires notes and re-reading.

Keep the language of the summary/abstract fair and neutral - non-evaluative. In the example above L&E, "best" is a term from the article and attached to L&E by way of "argue" - and argue is a more neutral term than "opinion."

Strategies for handling critique

You could add parathentical statements to suggest where an evaluation might go.
L&E argue (pretty pedantically) that audience is best thought of as a synthesis of an actual, physical audience addressed, and a cognitively constructed audience that the writer invokes. Not one nor the other, but both.

This starts to look less like a thoughtful critique and more like snark.

The better option is to keep your critique outside the summary. Specify a heading for a critique and evaluation, and spend some time on critiquing the argument itself on its own terms. That is, in what way is their argument pedantic, and so what if it is?

Keep the language of your critique and connections unpacked: precise. Clich├ęs and advertising prose will get you every time because we use them to skim over the sense of connection and specificity. "Writing in the New Millennium" is ok for an article title, but a critique will specify the nature or features of the terms to draw out the issue. "Writing is more difficult in the new millennium" says less than little; it confounds because it doesn't specify what in the new millennium makes writing more difficult. It begs the question, sure, but it begs the question because the characteristics suggested are not specified.




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