Before we can synthesize information, we first must study the information we find in our various sources, a kind of “first-things-first” approach, like beginning with a guitar part for a song before adding other instruments.
Once you have gathered sources about a particular topic, like coming up with an idea for a song, take a good look at what you have. You can begin to analyze your sources with a strategy called charting, which helps you delve deeply into an author’s meaning and analyze what you have read.
Before you begin charting, read the relevant part of the source, which might be an article, a chapter in a book, or a Web page, through one time to gain a general understanding of what the author is saying. Pay close attention to the main ideas in each paragraph. Next, go back and number the paragraphs using sticky notes or, if you are allowed to write on the text, write the paragraph number in the margin. Then, create a chart like the one below.
To help you understand how to use the chart, read the steps below. Click on each Think Aloud cloud to see what I would do during each step.
|Paragraph||Key words and phrases||Content (essential information)||Author’s style or craft|
1. In the Paragraph column, copy the paragraph numbers into the chart.
2. In the Key words and phrases column, identify key words and phrases in each paragraph and list them in the chart.
For this column, I will look for words and phrases in each paragraph that relate to the development of the topic as well as for repeated words and phrases.
3. In the Content column, summarize the meaning of the paragraph and capture the author’s message.
In this column, I will write a complete sentence using the key words from column two and important content to summarize the paragraph.
4. In the Author’s style or craft column, write what you notice about the author’s writing style or craft.
In this column, I’ll note how the author’s writing affects me and how the author engages or interests the reader. For example, I might write, “This article inspires me to try a new sport.”
Charting your sources is like charting new chords for a song. Using this chart with each of your sources helps you analyze the texts. Sometimes you may read a source and begin to chart it, only to discover that the source isn’t appropriate for your topic. Remember, part of analyzing sources includes finding the best ones to help you write your final essay.