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Common Course Assignments: Commentary Versus Opinion

Commentary and Argumentation

In order to synthesize your sources, you must first analyze them to help provide rationale for why they are a part of your literature review and what role they play within your field. In order to demonstrate analysis, you must provide your commentary on the sources you discuss beyond simply summarizing them.

Consider the following, analysis-free excerpt. This approach is typical in first drafts of literature reviews:

....is to deny the student (Sigree, 1999).
     As Harper (2001) noted, instructors cannot identify every one of their students' emotional intelligences (EI). Faculty members do not have the time, and students simply are not that forthcoming with their learning preferences (Harper, 2001). Furthermore, as Harper warned, if instructors decide to attempt a complete analysis of every student's EI, they will inevitably hold the entire class back. After all, taking time to adequately diagnose a student's EI means less time for helping students meet the expectations set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act (Harper, 2001).
     Finkelstein and Kramer's (2002) findings…

There is no analysis or critique in this excerpt. There is strong paraphrasing, and this passage provides a decent overview of Harper, but it addresses only Harper's ideas and does not explain why this information is important and how it relates to the author's overall purpose for the paper. The reader needs to know the answer to "So what, and who cares?"

What is missing from this summary is context and analysis. Consider the following revision:

....is to deny the student (Sigree, 1999).
    Harper (2001), however, disagreed with Sigree's (1999) assertion. Harper noted that despite the obvious benefits of diagnosing a student's emotional intelligence (EI; Jones & Hammer, 1998; Mooney, 1998; Sigree, 1999), instructors cannot identify every one of their students' EIs (Harper, 2001). Faculty members do not have the time, and students are not that forthcoming with their learning preferences (Harper, 2001).
     For Harper (2001), though, the real issue was not with instructors' belief in EI, but rather in how this belief affected classroom logistics. Instructors who follow Earnhart's (1996) advice to "Take the time to understand how each of your students learn" (p. 33) are being impractical, Harper argued. Taking time to adequately diagnose a student's EI means less time for helping students meet the expectations set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act (Harper, 2001). Although Earnhart's (1996) vision is ideal, Harper takes a more practical stance.
    With Harper's (2001) concerns in mind, I cannot endorse Finkelstein and Kramer’s (2002) findings…

Here, the author is synthesizing the literature. We know, based on the author's direction, how Harper interacts with the other literature on the topic. We know that Harper is probably in the minority, and we know what the author's take on Harper is. Finally, we know how and why the author is using Harper: Harper will be used to refute Finkelstein and Kramer, which presumably is the author's intent or thesis. Notice how the author demonstrated analysis and synthesis in just a few additional sentences.