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Taking a position

You may notice that in using the work of others, you are not simply summarising everything: you are taking a position and supporting an argument. The way this is done will vary with subject area and the purposes of your assignment. But the words you choose reflect the position you have taken: found, argued, contradicted. For example, if you are dealing with facts, or summarising what has happened before, you might use more neutral terms such as Smith and Jones (2005) found…

If you are dealing with perspectives, then you might use different verbs: In contrast to their earlier position, Smith and Jones (2005) argued that…

If you wanted to indicate a more critical stance, you might use something stronger still: Smith and Jones (2005) contradicted earlier…

Consider the following sample. Notice how this student has shifted from a description of the content of the paper she is reviewing to a critique, making her points about what she believes to be issues.

Sample critique

Excerpt 1: Summarising content

…This paper poses the question about the value given to teaching the ritual of prayers in the classroom in state, independent or faith-based schools. Through the process of questioning the role of education, Mountain's aims are to elucidate on the meaning of prayer in primary schools for children, to investigate how children learn to pray and to determine their spiritual level. The last aim is concentrated on offering recommendations to the audience about the instruction of prayers. The researcher justifies the need of this study for the benefit of a wide audience in society related to: "children's spirituality, religious education, the psychology of religion and student welfare" (Mountain, 2006, p.67). In her findings, the meaning of prayer is suggested to be understood, valued and experienced in a personal context by all participants. Consequently, Mountain (2006) questions the value of secularism in Australian education due to common practices of religion outside of school. She expands on the idea of culture with religious beliefs being part of student' everyday life. She offers explanation on the function of praying and connects it to the value described earlier because of its mental and spiritual support…

Summarising content

In the first excerpt the student explains the writer's aims, making use of verbs such as justifies, questions, expands, offers. Notice her construction here of the meaning of prayer is suggested to be understood – the student is perhaps not completely objective here. Here is a more objective alternative: In her findings, the meaning of prayer is understood, valued and experienced…

Check the section on academic writing on the Language and Learning Online site for more on

Excerpt 2: Evaluating content

…Mountain elaborates on and describes the choice for her research methodology. The use of grounded theory and an extensive literature review suggests confidence in the process of inquiry. Grounded theory is described as being a recognised methodology and as a form of qualitative research (Mountain, 2006). Wellington's (2000, p.197) definition adds nuance to Mountain's: he explains that this methodology is based on an induction process, which "is the process of inferring a general law from the observation of particular instances" and that it is never an assurance to use generalisations. Consequently, this could be counted as one of the weaknesses of this research. Indeed, generalising the concept of prayer in the educational system in order to reach the stipulated aims can be hazardous. The researcher announces that she avoided possible assumptions by engaging in epistemology, which is suggested as being 'necessary' when adults and children are involved in a research process (Mountain, 2006). Through these methods and methodology, the proposed aims are achieved and she can therefore present a set of recommendations. However, if I were to apply the Goldilocks test and Russian doll principle (Clough and Nutbrown, 2002, p.36), the question of "Education in prayer: invasive indoctrination or neglectful neutrality?" is 'too big' because it is assumed that the reader has thought through an accurate definition of what R.E is. Thus, more detailed and specific questions to open the debate would have been useful…

Evaluating content

In the second excerpt the student at first continues to refer to the writer's research quite neutrally with elaborates on and describes the choice for her research methodology but then shifts to a more evaluative stance: the use of grounded theory and an extensive literature review suggests confidence in the process of enquiry, and, finally, a more critical stance: consequently, this could be counted as one of the weaknesses of this research. Indeed, generalising the concept of prayer in the educational system in order to reach the stipulated aims can be hazardous.

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