This resource gives you a way to approach reading and responding to nonfiction without requiring you to write an essay. Following such an approach will help you greatly with learning from textbooks, articles, encyclopedias, and other forms of nonfiction writing that you may encounter in your college career. The goal is to encourage you to develop the confidence necessary to start reading critically and making arguments about the nonfiction you read.
The approach is called “SAR” for Summarize, Analyze, and Respond. It consists of three sections with the following general content.
Paragraph 1 SUMMARIZE.
Summarize the ideas, mainly with your own words, including brief (2-5 word) properly cited direct quotations when necessary. Include the author’s first and last names, correctly spelled, as well as the title of the work within quotation marks. This should be the shortest of the three paragraphs.
A summary is not like a movie trailer, which designed to entice the viewer into thinking there’s something interesting coming. Rather, a summary should clearly and briefly explain what those interesting ideas are and what the author’s argument is. A summary is about what a text says.
The verbs you use in summarizing an essay suggest an author’s purpose and can imply a judgment of that purpose. Focusing on the verbs in your summary sentences helps to set you up to do the analysis.
In the table below there are two columns. On the left is a verb you can use in a sentence in which you are summarizing a nonfiction text. On the right is a comment that suggests what that verb means in the context of writing a summary. Note all the verbs are in present tense.
|Tells||Explaining by narrating|
|Explains||Explaining by informing|
|Argues||Attempting to persuade|
|Claims||Attempting to persuade, but that you disagree with the author|
|Informs||Writing to inform|
|Persuades||Writing to persuade|
|Exposes||Writing to investigate something hidden|
|Teaches||Explaining or informing|
|Narrates||Telling a personal story|
|Relates||Explaining by using the rhetorical strategy of comparison|
|Distinguishes||Explaining by using the rhetorical strategy of contrast|
|Compares||Pointing out similarities between topics|
|Contrasts||Pointing out differences between topics|
|Warns||Persuading through caution|
|Implies||Skeptical about the author’s motivations and/or implications of their argument|
Paragraph 2 ANALYZE.
Identify parts of the reading, including:
- the context in which text was written,
- the audience for whom the text is intended,
- the purpose of the text, what rhetorical strategies the writer uses,
- the genre reflected by the text;
- the stance the writer takes toward the subject,
- the tools the writer uses to develop support,
- the overall thesis of the essay.
An analysis is about what the text does, rhetorically speaking. Note the verbs in this paragraph should be in present tense.
Context: This essay is a contribution to a larger discussion or debate about what? What events or ideas prompted the author to write this essay?
Audience: Who is likely to read this essay? Where was it originally published, and what type of publication is/was it? Who can access this language?
Purpose: To entertain? To persuade? To congratulate? To instruct? To warn? To scold? To inform or explain? Some combination of these?
Rhetorical strategies: Chronological narrative? Analyzing cause and/or effect? Arguing? Comparing and/or contrasting? Making analogies? Classifying and/or dividing? Describing? Defining? Explaining a process? Dialogue? Some combination of these?
Genre: Formal argument? Analysis of some other text(s)? Evaluation? Memoir? Profile? Proposal? Reflection? Letter?
Stance: Resigned? Antagonistic? Humorous? Assured? Happy? Confident? Sympathetic? Urgent? Encouraging? Frustrated? Energetic? Pleading? Detached? Ambivalent? Apathetic? Clinical? Amused? Smug? Humorous? Sarcastic? Questioning? Some combination?
Tools: Evidence such as expert testimony, quoting authorities, using facts, figures, and statistics, or direct quotations? Examples such as allusions to public knowledge, well-known anecdotes or personal experience, graphic illustrations, fictional scenarios, colorful and descriptive imagery, or figures of speech? Appeals to Logic, character, emotion, need, or value, or the inadvertent or deliberate use of logical fallacies? Design elements such as subheadings and sidebars? Persuasive elements such as concessions to the opposition or qualifiers to one’s own position?
Thesis: The one or two sentences that best summarize the point of the essay. Sometimes the point is implied instead of overtly stated.
Note that tone usually changes as the text unfolds, and you see it in specific word choice, which you should note in your analysis. Also, if you identify logical fallacies as tools, you should criticize the essay for its logical flaws in paragraph 3, your Respond paragraph.
Paragraph 3 RESPOND. Give a personal response to the reading. What ideas do you find interesting? Why? Even if you don’t like the essay, you should still be able to find something interesting about it. Do you agree with the author’s “message”? You can also evaluate and/or challenge the essay in this paragraph. Is the author’s purpose achieved? How well does the author prove her/his argument? What could someone on the other side of this argument say, and how valid would that criticism be? What flaws in logic do you see in the author’s argument? You should use present tense verbs in this section, and you may also speak from the first person, using “I” as you write your response.
23 September 2015
SAR #1: “The Culture of American Film”
In “The Culture of American Film,” Julia Newman argues that analyzing movies for “cultural significance” (294) can lead to greater understanding of changes in our society.
This essay was written in the context of a growing movement in academia toward viewing popular films as literature and analyzing movies as cultural text. Newman’s intended audience is probably university-level scholars, but her ideas are accessible to anyone interested in examining film as it suggests underlying societal structures. One purpose of this essay is to explain how to view films as indications of what’s going on in our society, but Newman also wants to persuade the reader that there’s more to movies than just entertainment. The organizational form of the essay is classification, as Newman places movies into categories of those that do reflect changes in our society and those that do not, then she compares and contrasts these categories. In addition, the essay employs a chronological organizational form in which Newman describes the plots of various movies from 50 years ago to the present. The tone of the essay is consistently encouraging and knowledgeable. There’s a sort of majestic tone to the introduction, too, as Newman pronounces that the “significance of storytelling has diminished over the decades, and cinema has risen to take its place” (291). Tools Newman uses to accomplish her purpose include specific examples of film analyses, an impressive balance between academic and accessible word choices, and concessions to the opposition, like when she writes, “However, it is easy to overstate these connections” (292). The thesis of the essay appears on page 298: “But as cinematic forms of storytelling overtake written forms of expression, the study of movies as complex text bearing cultural messages and values is becoming more and more important.” In other words, we can learn a lot about structural shifts within our culture through studying popular film as literary text.
I found the ideas in this essay quite compelling. The essay makes me want to examine the movies of ten or twenty years ago to consider what they suggested about our society then. The essay also makes me think about films that have been nominated for Academy Awards this year, like The Artist, and what the popularity of this silent movie says about changes taking place in our culture right now. I do wish Newman had used more current examples; most of her examples are so old that I’ve never seen them. I also wonder how much knowledge of history is necessary to really apply her thesis. . . . I don’t think I’ll ever have a strong enough understanding of American history to apply Newman’s ideas to movies that have been popular in the past, and I can’t imagine trying to examine currently popular movies for what they suggest about cultural shifts that are happening right now. It seems like the type of analysis she encourages is only possible in retrospect and with a strong understanding of movements in American history.
Attribution: Adapted from “Summary, Analysis, Response: A Functional Approach to Reading, Understanding, and Responding to Nonfiction,” by Chauna Ramsey (2016). License: CC BY-NC-SA.
The Passage-Based Paper
By asking you to choose a single passage from a longer reading, this assignment demands that you slow down and pay attention to how you make sense of the passage, how you read it. Passage-based papers offer you the opportunity to experience the connections between the interpretive practices of reading and writing as you make your reading visible through the act of writing. Here is how you would do this:
1. Choose a short passage (3‒5 sentences) from the text you are reading and write a 1‒2 page passage-based paper on this excerpt.
2. Transcribe the passage onto the top of the page (including the page number from which the passage is taken) and then “unpack” the passage, paying close attention to the textual elements including the passage’s language, tone, and construction.
3. Once you have examined the passage closely, conclude your paper by connecting this passage to the rest of the work. In other words, once you have completed a close, textual analysis of your passage, contemplate the meaning of the passage and its place in or contribution to the meaning(s) of the text as a whole.
Attribution: A Writer’s Guide to Mindful Reading. Practice & Pedagogy (p.28.), by Ellen C. Carillo, WAC Clearinghouse and University Press of Colorado (2017). License: CC BY-NC-ND.