environmental ethics writing paper 03 1

Week Five Reading Reflection Instructions

Write about one (and ONLY One) of the following week five texts to complete this assignment:

Whyte – The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis

Karmapa – The Heart is Noble

Macy – Greening of the Self

Kraft – Nuclear Ecology and Engage Buddhism

In many college courses you are asked to memorize facts and key statements, and by now you can do this with relative ease. But in courses that also require close, critical reading, you are asked to go a step further. In order to demonstrate that you have assimilated the central argument of a reading, you must be able to restate the writer’s central ideas in your own words. A précis, the assignment for this week, should include your voice explaining the reading, not the author’s voice. The goal is to communicate the core essence of the work in a manner that is both clear and concise, and only once you have done that, to express your own ideas about the work. What you think of the reading must be clearly distinguishable from what you are saying the author thinks.

For this assignment, select one of the above readings and analyze it in terms of the author’s (s’) discussion of environmental ethics. Do not attempt to summarize every argument made in the article; focus on arguments regarding environmental ethics specifically.

This kind of writing is not as easy as it looks, but if you complete it well you will never forget the argument, the examples, and the development of the reading. More than likely you will also find that, when you write research papers and other critical papers, your ability to write a good précis is central to the basics of analysis, synthesis, comparison, and other key, higher order thinking skills absolutely required for your success in college and in the profession or career you have chosen when you graduate. In addition to its value as a writing exercise, writing a précis is excellent reading practice—in order to say another person’s ideas in your own words, you must understand the ideas thoroughly.

How to proceed:

  1. Read the article or chapter carefully. Try to grasp the writer’s main point. Spotting topic sentences will help (it can be helpful to skim for sentences like “this article will show that…” or “this book disagrees with… and will argue that…”). Often, an author will make many small arguments to support a big one—learn to tell the difference. What is the author’s big argument? Look up in the dictionary any words whose meaning is not clear. As you read, take brief notes to be used in your writing.

2. When you have finally decided what the author’s main point is, write the first paragraph of the précis.

3. After the first paragraph, write another paragraph summarizing other important parts of the article or chapter. Do not use the wording of the original unless you find certain key words indispensable. If you cannot translate the ideas into language of your own, you do not understand them very well.

4. Finally, now that you have analyzed the text objectively, what is your evaluative, critical response? Here is the fun part: What do you think about the text, its claim, its support? Are these tenable? Why or why not? Does the author provide enough support? Is the support logical? Is it clear? Does it make sense? How does it connect to, rub up against, resonate with, answer or disagree with, other similar texts that you’ve read? And, most of all, in your view does it accomplish the purpose it set out to accomplish? Why or why not, specifically? Where is it lagging? Where does it excel? Etc. This portion of your response should be at least two paragraphs in length.

Your précis should be about 4-6 paragraphs, or about 600-700 words. Assignments less than 600 words or more than 700 words will not be accepted. The intent is to give you practice writing carefully and concisely – word “spewing” is not helpful to you or to your reader.

Some tips:
In your own words, state the author’s thesis, main arguments and conclusions (as related to environmental ethics specifically). Get to the “heart” of the reading—omit repetition and only use examples that are necessary. Write in your own voice. I should “hear” your voice, not the author’s.

Avoid the temptation to lift long phrases and whole sentences from the original. One way to start writing in your own voice is to substitute your own synonyms for the author’s more important terms (but these synonyms should be accurate both in denotative and connotative meaning).

Write from your point of view, not that of the author whose work is being summarized. It can be helpful to begin with such expressions as “This author says” or “The paragraph means.”

Give a brief description of key terms and concepts as necessary.

Proofread! Read your work to yourself out loud. Does it make sense? Is it free of spelling and grammar mistakes? (use spell check and grammar check, but don’t depend on them to catch all mistakes). When finished, the précis should clearly state: This is what was studied (argued, discussed). This is how it was done (this was the focus). This is what was learned. This is what it means (why it is important).

This assignment was adapted from Dr. Toby Veeder and University of Oregon Professor Dan Buck and was earlier adapted by Professor Buck from Tracy Duckart’s Instructional Website at Humboldt State University and Valerie Stevenson.
“Tips for Writing a Précis” by Constance DeVereaux:


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