Relating Different Viewpoints

Learning Objective:

  • Identify common themes and ideas in several complex readings.

LESSON
When you read a magazine or newspaper, your understanding of an articleA non-fiction, often informative writing that forms a part of a publication, such as a magazine or newspaper. generally does not depend upon your understanding of another article; however, reading in your college classes will require you to be able to link one readingA piece of writing to be read. A reading can either be a full work (i.e., a book) or partial (i.e., a passage). to another and to understand how they relate to each other. In other words, it is essential that you identify common themesThe main idea or meaning of a text. among various sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information.. In the contextThe larger setting in which something happens; the "big picture." of informational writing, themes are similar to main ideasThe most important or central thought of a reading selection. It also includes what the author wants the reader to understand about the topic he or she has chosen to write about. and thesis statementsA brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader?; the theme of a piece of writing is the primary subject matter it discusses. (The word theme is used differently with respect to literature.) Recognizing themes is an important skill as you read many pages of research that may or may not be relevant support for your essays. It will allow you to choose evidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim. that works well together, even when it comes from a number of different readings. This lesson will present strategies that you can use to identify the relationships between several complex readings.

Understand each individual reading.

Before you can explore the relationships between readings, you need to understand each individual reading. These techniques will help you do that.

  1. Find the main idea. Use the topicThe subject of a reading. , signal wordsWords or phrases that connect ideas and alert a reader to important relationships between subjects. For example, signal words in a cause and effect essay could include first, second, then, next, later, because, after, and due to. Signal words in a compare/contrast essay could include also, but, similarly, in contrast, unlike, in the same way, as well as, or on the other hand., keywordsWords that are important to understanding the meaning of a passage or reading., and supporting detailsStatements within a reading that tie directly to major details that support the main idea. These can be provided in examples, statistics, anecdotes, definitions, descriptions, or comparisons within the work. to find the theme or main idea of the reading. Identify the title and headings. Look for repeated words and ideas that indicate the writer's topic and the point being made about it. Keep in mind that the introductory paragraphThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis. and concluding paragraphThe end portion of a writing that contains a summary or synthesis of the ideas in the work. This includes a recap of key points and reminders of the author's purpose and thesis statement. are both areas where writers tend to briefly summarizeTo give a short version of the main points of a text. the point of the textWords that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech..
  1. Summarize the reading. Reduce the reading down to a simpler form. One way to do this is to identify the main idea of each body paragraphThe part of an essay that comes after the introduction and before the conclusion. Body paragraphs lay out the main ideas of an argument and provide the support for the thesis. All body paragraphs should include these elements: a topic sentence, major and minor details, and a concluding statement. Each body paragraph should stand on its own but also fit into the context of the entire essay, as well as support the thesis and work with the other supporting paragraphs. of the reading and combine your list of main ideas into one manageable paragraphA selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation..
  1. Look for an abstractA summary of an article often written by the author and reviewed by the editor of the article. The abstract provides an overview of the contents of the reading, including its main arguments, results, and evidence, allowing you to compare it to other sources without requiring an in-depth review. . Generally, articles in peer-reviewedWritings that have been evaluated by experts in a subject before they are published. journals come with an abstract. An abstract is a summary of the article often written by the author and reviewed by the editor of the article. The abstract provides an overview of the contents of the reading, including its main arguments, results, and evidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim., allowing you to compare it to other sources without requiring an in-depth review. Abstracts are excellent for research purposes because they allow you to get an overview and sense of the source without committing to a lengthy reading. Abstracts also provide you with a less time-involved yet accurate means by which to compare and assess the relationship among detailed and complex writings.
  1. Outline the reading. In a lengthy reading, it may be more time-effective to outlineA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. rather than summarize. This method does not require a formal alphanumerical outlineAn outline that uses Roman numerals, letters, and Arabic numerals to signify different levels of organization. with Roman numerals. Instead, use brief phrases and informal indenting to show the relevant hierarchyA system that is organized into different levels according to importance or power. of ideas, thoughts, and arguments. Often this will be enough organization to provide you with a good sense of the reading.

Find similarities between readings.

Once you understand the readings, you can compare the readings and find common themes. Here are some things that you can look for:

  1. Identify common language. Do the readings share wording? In addition to looking for terms that are exactly the same, also look for synonymsA word or phrase that has an identical or very similar meaning to another word. Example: tiny is a synonym for small. across the texts.
  1. Recognize similar subject matter. Perhaps the readings all deal with heroines or disasters. Focus on these similarities and then dig deeper. Find points of comparisonThe criteria by which subjects are compared and/or contrasted. among the subjectsThe people, places, things, or ideas being discussed or described. .
  1. Look for shared toneThe feeling or attitude that a writer expresses toward a topic. The words the writer chooses express this tone. Examples of tones can include: objective, biased, humorous, optimistic, and cynical, among many others. . Are all the pieces light and entertaining or are they dark and moody? Are they scholarly and academic or more news-oriented and opinionated?

Let's see what this looks like in practice by reviewing three short abstracts.

Abstract 1: "Pit Bulls Bite: Evidence Supports the Banning of Pit Bulls from Community Living" by Abigail Caraway and Lindsay Dunn, The American Journal of Animal Behavior

This essay examines the evidence supporting the ban of pit bull dogs by landlords and condominium associations. A review of several research studies conducted across various American urban communities reveals two key arguments: while pit bulls may not be a "breed" per se, the dogs we refer to as pit bulls share a common tendency toward violence, and regardless of the home environment of the individual dog, pit bulls possess an innate propensity to be vicious and lash out and bite at any perceived threat. While there is a movement across the country to "stop pit bull discrimination," the research continues to support the restriction of certain kinds of animals for safer community living.

Abstract 2: "Pit Bulls Attack When Provoked: A Brief Look at how Pit Bulls Aren't That Different From Other Dogs" by John Davis, The Journal of Veterinary Research and Development

This article takes a look at the media frenzy around pit bulls. Common interest groups supporting the movement of community living across this country have presented the research conducted around pit bulls as blanket, unquestionable fact: all pit bulls are vicious and will attack, regardless of the environment in which they are raised or reside. In fact, this is biased and unsubstantiated. Pit bulls are not a "breed" per the standard definition and nurture plays a tremendous role in their propensity toward violence. Further, a discussion of the context of "pit bull biting stories" is necessary toward a greater understanding of these animals altogether.

Abstract 3: "My Pit Bulls Wouldn't Hurt a Fly" by Christina Miller, Dog Breeders' Monthly

This article is about my experience as a pit bull owner in America. I have encountered pit bull discrimination first hand, including being banned from apartment and condominium communities. People just accept the media-driven assumption that all pit bulls are vicious, mean, and will attack without provocation. In fact, pit bulls have absorbed the burden for dog attacks in this country. Not only are pit bulls not solely responsible for these incidents, there is research that demonstrates that it's not the breed of the dog but the temperament and treatment of the dog owner that determines how the dog behaves.

Now, review the abstracts using the three suggestions above to find potential similarities in the articles.

  1. Identify common language. All three abstracts use the terms "pit bulls," "vicious," "ban," and "communities." While a couple of the abstracts share the same language of "lashing out" and "attack," or "media frenzy" and "discrimination," there are also synonyms of such words or phrases used, like "dangerous," "media-driven assumption," "provocation," and "propensity."
  1. Recognize similar subject matter. All three of these abstracts focus on issues related to banning pit bulls from communities. They also all address the subject matter of media attention, discrimination, stories of attacks, a tendency toward violence, and the source of the so-called propensity of pit bull violence.
  1. Look for shared tone. While the first two abstracts share an academic or scholarly tone, focused on research and studies, the latter is more personal in nature. Nonetheless, all three reveal an opinion and take a stance on the issues around pit bulls. Finally, while the first appears more "matter of fact" and does not address anecdotal evidenceA brief, interesting story that supports a claim in a critical analysis or persuasion essay. (i.e., stories), the second does refer to the necessity for approaching stories while looking for context and the third is a kind of story in and of itself.

A review of these abstracts demonstrates similar thematic content. In other words, these readings share common themes: pit bulls, public safety, discrimination, and community living.

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