Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to: Academic Writing for the Humanities Part 3

Part 1 is here. For those who thought parts 1 and 2 were too cerebral or boring but are interested in improving their writing, Part 3 will probably be the most interesting.

Possibly the most important part of this whole thing

What are we looking for when we “analyze”? I've heard people say “I spent so much time on this paper and my professor says I'm not digging deep enough. What more do I need to do???” The answer, for me at least, lies in Bloom's taxonomy. Bloom is a last name that all educators know with a first name that everyone has forgotten, but he developed something very important for us: levels of thinking. Bloom created six levels of thinking from lower to higher those levels are: knowledge, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. The first three are often called “lower order thinking skills” while the last three are “higher order thinking skills” (HOTS). It is the HOTS that we want to primarily engage in our papers. These skills are easier to understand when we see key words that can be found in questions associated with each level. For instance, your paper may call for a definition of “religion.” Quoting Durkheim's definition of religion would be at the knowledge level. Consider knowledge regurgitation. Putting his definition into your own words would be at the understand level. These would be at the lower level. Deciding if a specific tradition meets Durkheim's definition of religion would be a HOTS. Comparing and contrasting Durkheim's definition to someone else's definition is a HOTS. Illustrating the ways in which Durkheim's definition shows a Western bias is a HOTS. Creating your own definition of religion would be a HOTS.

HOTS are where the juicy parts of our paper need to come from, not the lower order questions. The lower order questions often need to be addressed in order to set up our HOTS, but they should not be the focus of a paper.

Here is an image I admittedly stole, but this stuff can be found in so many places it's basically common knowledge (note they do change names of some levels). For more information (especially visual representations of HOTS), simply Google “Bloom's Taxonomy.” In your papers, you want to shoot for the top three levels in this visual aid. Included with the levels are keywords to help determine which level you're currently addressing with your research:

Knowing that you're addressing higher order analysis in your research paper requires you to know what sorts of questions belong to which level. Here is a good chart showing the levels and the types of questions that belong to each. For the humanities, here are some good types of questions to consider when analyzing data (journal articles, books, etc.) for a research paper (all are taken from the above link):
  • "What is the relationship between...?"
  • "What things justify...?"
  • "What could be changed to improve...?"
  • "What outcome would I predict for...?" (the flip of this would be taking the outcome first and then designing the process needed to reach it)
Parts 1 and 2 of this series (hopefully) helped those who are intimidated by the research process. For those already comfortable writing, they can skip them. Part 3 helps those who aren't sure if they're digging deep enough in their analysis.

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