Website Analysis Guide

Your Assignment

Your challenge is to write a review/critique of some webpage that discusses whether GMOs are safe (just Google ‘are GMOs safe’ or something similar). You must USE THE READINGS FROM THIS WEEK to inform your analysis. Questions to consider in your essay:

  • What’s the agenda of the article?
  • How is it convincing?
  • How is it misleading?
  • What kinds of assumptions does the author make?
  • What issues are NOT raised that should be?

Don’t choose something that is super long or complex; that creates way more work for you than is necessary here. Also, don’t choose anything that is super short and trite; it simply won’t give you enough material to work with. Spend 10 or 15 minutes looking through various options before deciding on what to critique. The assignment is more fun if you have something to say about your piece, whether about how useful it is or how ridiculous it is. Either way, have an opinion and express it clearly in your essay!

Assignment Goals

As with all your assignments, the goal is to put the course to use in addressing ‘real-world’ discussions about food production issues, namely critically analyzing some source that you might read even outside of this course. This is the goal of the entire course—-to help you think carefully and historically about the relationship between food and technology. Be sure you are analyzing your webpage in terms of the this week’s readings and even the rest of the course.

In other words, there are two distinct goals: 1) Show me that you’ve reasonably carefully done the readings for this week. 2) Show me that can you can critically analyze a piece of web writing in the same way we’ve been analyzing everything in the class.

As with the book reviews, your task as an author is to explain to someone unfamiliar with the article whether they should take it seriously or not, and in particular what is useful and what is lacking. A good critique will address both positive and negative aspects of the article, but not necessarily in equal amounts.

General Requirements

  • ~900-1200 words; 900 is really the bare minimum, but it useful to have a range at this point. 1200 should be considered closer to the upper limit so these don’t get too difficult to write (and read).
  • 1.5 line spacing
  • 11 pt. Times New Roman
  • 1” margins on all sides
  • Your name at top

Organizational advice

You should begin your essay with a succinct summary of the source—no more than a few sentences—so that your readers have an idea of what the point is (assume they have not read it themselves). This is a high-level big picture overview; save details for later in your analysis.

Then, comment about the strength of the argument in general. If it’s evidence based, is there sufficient evidence to back the author’s claims? If it’s more of a philosophical or ethical piece (where documentary evidence might not be much used), does the argument hold up? Does it flow logically and naturally from one point to the next? Or is kind of rambling and disjointed?

If relevant, comment on evidence used to support the argument. Maybe there are “scientific” studies, maybe anecdotal evidence, maybe nothing. Relatedly, how does the author establish expertise or authority? Are you convinced by the evidence?

What kinds of assumptions does the author make? Assumptions are frequently not stated in the text, so you’ll need to think outside of what’s in the actual text. What is problematic or missing? What did you find particularly effective?

Tips for success

  • Be specific. Don’t write vague statements like “It was thought that canning was dangerous.” Include a real subject, time period, and specific examples: “Because of scares with botulism, mercury, and BPA, consumers have at various points throughout the 20th century questioned the safety of canned goods.” Another example: “The safety of GMOs were questioned.” –> “Some consumer groups argued that even if GMOs did not pose an acute danger in themselves, the many unknowns about their effect on the environment and our bodies made them too dangerous to use.”
  • Key on first sentences. If you read just the first sentence (or maybe two) of your paragraphs one after the other, you should get a clear picture of your thinking. If you have sentences that don’t show you clearly and logically moving from one topic to the next, figure out what your paragraph is about, and fix the first sentence. If your paragraph doesn’t clearly elaborate on the main idea you introduce in your first sentence, decide if the paragraph is really necessary. If so, revise it so it makes a clear and distinct point that fits into your narrative. Make sure all the first sentences connect the dots!
  • Paraphase. Avoid long quotations, since you want use all the space for your own thinking.
  • Be selective. You can’t fit everything worth saying into your essay. Choose carefully what you think is most important!
  • Revise, revise, revise. Once you have a complete draft of everything you want to say, you are about half done. Set it aside (and budget time for this!), then come back and economize your prose. See the revision guide.

Note: Revisions are hard! But they are the only way to make your writing shine. That’s why we have a revision guide.

Questions

Please email me anytime with questions or concerns, including whether a particular source will work with the assignment. But really anything that you think would be vaguely fun to write about is fine.

Revision guide

Have I mentioned the revision guide? Use it!