Writing in Your Major

Tips From Tutors

Tips for Writing Reading-Journals/Reflections

The purpose of these reading journals is to help you learn and think about all of the readings done in class. The time spent on summary and reflection will serve to thoroughly imprint these ideas into your memory, if you do these assignments with care. Do not shirk them; they are one of the best ways to gain a better grasp on the content of the course material. Students are often advised to either summarize each article's main points in a paragraph or have a list of main points in bullet form, then react to the article in some way in your journal. Your reaction and “processing” of the article is more important than your summary. If you feel like you're having trouble coming up with something other than a summary, try asking yourself some of the questions below to dig deeper.

  • How does the article relate to you? Can you make it connect to your life?
  • Do you agree with some/all of the article's main points? Why or why not? Be specific and really explore those opinions in depth.
  • Consider the definitions of some of the terms we take for granted every day such as 'nature', 'science', and ‘society’. Does it seem like the way the writer uses these terms matches up with how you use the word or how the public uses the word? How does this influence the meaning of the writing? Talk about the differences and misunderstandings that did or could arise.
  • Is the writer biased in any way? What could have caused it? Does this unfairly limit the scope of the article or leave out important points of view?

Thinking about the ideas themselves, as well as the factors that could have influenced the writer, are good places to look for inspiration. Take some time and think about these things (try talking with someone about the ideas too!) and record your thoughts—it will help. Again, the idea is to get you to understand and think about the article…and show it through your writing. This kind of writing is not just saying whether or not you liked the article (though that can definitely be a part of your response), but why. Critical thinking and analysis (especially in regards to topics you have been covering in class) is important, and hopefully some of the above suggestions for questions to ask yourself will help you get started.

***Remember to follow your TA's expectations! These will provide specifics on how to format your papers, what specifically he/she will be looking for, and other writing conventions you should follow.

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Sample Papers

This first sample reflection, from NR 002, exemplifies some of the tips that have been given already and shows some examples of thinking and referencing the reading critically. Just remember that it’s content that matters; copying the format of this paper won’t necessarily make your journal better.

This second sample reflection, from NR 006, exemplifies the kind of exploratory thinking you can do for these assignments. It uses personal experiences as a way to expand on the writer’s response to the lecture and provides an example of personal reflection, which is especially important for NR006.

Reflection papers, also called response papers, are assigned in many RSENR classes. This response paper, from WFB 285, was written in response to a question posed by the assignment. This type of paper is also frequently assigned in Environmental Studies classes.

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