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During your theology studies, you may be asked to write a critical book review. It may be of a work of fiction, or a chapter from an anthology, or a whole book. Whichever it is, you are not asked to merely report on the source, but to evaluate its effectiveness. You should identify and explain the book’s themes, and present an argument as to the text’s appropriateness to the field of study.
- Read the book or chapter. Be aware of your reactions to the content of the text, and the style the author has chosen to communicate their thoughts.
- Think about what the main idea of the piece is. Do a concept map of the main ideas, the main supporting ideas, the main evidence for each idea.
- Read other sources around the main ideas that are related to the field of study, ie if the subject is ecclesiology, investigate the themes around being the church; if it is New Testament studies, investigate the themes related to those of the New Testament.
- Write your initial draft. Structure it as an essay.
- Introduction: Include the title and author of the book (and chapter information if it is appropriate), a brief introduction to the contents, its purpose or audience, and your reaction and evaluation.
- Body Paragraph 1: provide background information that helps place the material in context, and discuss any criteria you have used for judging the book. In this or a separate paragraph, you could summarise the content of the book, using direct quotes to establish the author’s ideas. Do not quote extensively. Parts of sentences that are merged into your points are best.
- Body Paragraphs 2 – 4: Write one paragraph about each of the main ideas that you wish to evaluate. Use quotes to establish your points. You might want to discuss how well the book achieved its goal; what possibilities are suggested by the book; what the book has left out; how the book compares to others on the subject; what specific points are convincing or what personal experiences you have had that relate to the subject.
- Conclusion: You can end with a direct comment or critique of the book. Tie together the issues raised by your review. You may choose to comment on whether you would recommend the book to others, and if so why.
- Proofread and check for accuracy.
Looking for some models to get you started?
The Library collection holds many journals which regularly include Book Reviews. If you would like to look at how somebody else has written a review, a good place to start is by reading some in Uniting Church Studies. As you read, think about how some of the guidelines set out above have been followed.
A summary records the main points of a piece of writing, but is in the reader’s own words, with a few short quotes where necessary. Writing summaries enables the reader to focus on understanding another person’s view of a topic, as demonstrated in the whole of a piece of writing. You should report what the writer actually presents, and also the degree of certainty that the writer exhibits.
You are to summarize an author’s view, whether you agree with them or not. A summary should first of all be an accurate depiction of the author’s views. You can, however, have an opinion on the author’s view, but this comes after a good summary, without interfering with an accurate presentation of the writer’s view.
To create a good summary, you should read the text a number of times to develop a clear understanding of:
• the author’s ideas and intentions
• the meaning and details
• the force with which the ideas are expressed
Writing a summary
Use the following steps to write a summary.
1. Write notes in point form using keywords; this will make it easier to express the ideas in your own words.
2. Write the summary directly from your notes without re-reading the passage.
3. Refer back to the original to ensure that your summary is a true reflection of the writer's ideas.
Reflective thinking and writing requires you to consider how what you have read or experienced interacts with what you already know, or think, or believe. It may not come naturally to you if you have cultural assumptions that say that asking questions, raising doubts and questioning the scholarship of experts are not encouraged.
Nevertheless, this is what is required of you in your theological studies at UTC.
If you find it difficult, you might want to start by asking yourself ‘am I comfortable with this author’s ideas/this experience?’ Whether you are or not, ask yourself ‘why am I comfortable (or uncomfortable) with these ideas/this experience?’ Then ‘why is that important for me?’ Continue asking ‘why’ questions until you are satisfied that you have identified the basis of your reaction to the author’s ideas or the experience.
Reflective writing does not have to follow the formal structure and language use of other University writing. You may use ‘I’ and ‘we,’ contractions and informal words. However, there is still an expectation that what you present is public writing. You may start with a private set of notes, but what you submit as part of your studies should not disclose information about yourself or anyone else that you (or they) would not want made public.
You may be asked to
- Revisit your prior experiences and any knowledge that you have of the topic
- Make connections between what you already know and what you are learning
- Identify your reactions to texts or experiences, becoming a more active, aware and critical learner as a result
- Clarify your understanding of what you are learning
In writing a reflection you have the opportunity to revisit your own:
- Values and
A literature review is a critical evaluation of the literature or texts that have been published on a particular topic. It requires you to be able to summarise all the significant writing about that topic, and to compare and critically evaluate that literature.
Its purpose is to establish the current knowledge of a topic. It provides an overview of the topic, identifies the key writers and prevailing theories, as well as the questions being asked and the relevant methodologies being employed.
It may resolve a controversy, establish the need for further research or define a new branch of enquiry that is not covered, or inadequately covered in the literature.
To write the literature review, you will need to do some extensive reading and research, and keep the bibliographical information on what you access, in order to
- determine what has been written about the topic
- provide an overview of the key concepts
- identify major patterns which become apparent
- identify any strengths or weaknesses that become apparent
- identify any gaps in the research
- identify any conflicting evidence and
- identify where and how further research could be undertaken.
The literature review is structured as a formal essay with an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion.
- The introduction should:
- identify the nature of the topic under discussion
- identify the scope of the topic (that is, what it does and does not include)
- identify the basis for your selection of the literature
- The body paragraphs should cover one issue each, beginning with a topic sentence that identifies that issue. They could include
- the historical background to the topic, and the relevant classic texts
- current viewpoints
- possible approaches for approaching the subject, eg feminist, post-modern, post-colonial, cross-cultural.
- definitions in use
- current research studies
- previous thinking related to the topic
- principal questions being asked
- general conclusions that are being drawn
- research methodologies that have been used.
- The conclusion should
- summarise the major agreements and disagreements represented by the literature
- identify the general conclusions that are being drawn and
- identify where your intended research will sit in the literature; what contribution you will make to the field.
A bibliography (or reference list) is a list of all the sources you have consulted during your research. To annotate it, after the bibliographical information, you add a short paragraph summarising the content of the text, and evaluating its usefulness for your purposes.
Although the annotation is not long, it should include:
1. The bibliographical information for the source. It should be consistent with the style you use, ie APA or Chicago.
2. A summary of the main arguments of the text.
3. An evaluation or assessment of the text. You might consider:
- is it a useful source?
- how it compares to other sources in your bibliography
- how reliable the information is
- how objective, subjective or biased it is
- whether it achieves its goal
4. A reflection on the text in terms of how helpful (or not) it was for your purposes, how effective it was in shaping your thinking or your argument.