Monday 2 February 2015

The School Research Lead and Journal Clubs - Writing a Critical Synopsis of a Text

In my recent posts on the role of the school research lead I have argued that one of the key tasks of such a role is to help colleagues become critical consumers of research.  Indeed, the critical appraisal of evidence, both research texts and other sources -is an essential component of becoming an effective evidence-based practitioner.  One of the ways in which these skills can be developed is through is the creation of a Journal Club, where colleagues regularly get together to critically review journal articles.  In the rest of this post I will look at one particular method of developing skills in the critical appraisal of evidence, which can be used as an integral part of a Journal Club or independently by colleagues looking to become more critical consumers of research.

Mike Wallace and Alison Wray in their book Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (second edition) identify 5 basic questions which form the basis of a critical synopsis, which will also form the starting point for a subsequent critical analysis. The FIVE basic questions are:

1. Why am I reading this?
Am I trying to formulate an answerable question.? Is this reading going to help me gain a better understanding of background or foreground questions?  Is the reading for school-based action or for the purpose of academic study? Is this reading about helping me develop my skills as a critical reader.

2. What are the authors trying to do in writing this?
The authors my have a range of differing purposes including : criticising policy and practice; providing a synthesis of others' work in the area; reporting on their own research activities; or they maybe engaged in theory development.

3. What are the authors saying that is relevant to what I want to find out?
What is the text actually about and what do the authors say about it?  How does text the relate to your own interests: is the text directly linked to your interests or key question(s); is the text indirectly related to your key interests/questions; or does the text provide a tangential but interesting perspective on the issues/questions at hand?

4. How convincing is what the authors are saying?
How has the data been collected and analysed?  Does the data directly lead to the analysis or conclusion being drawn, or are there 'leaps' in logic of the argument?

5. What can I make of this?
Is this text worthy of further of further reference or deeper analysis, or is it something which will only be referred to in passing.  Alternatively, is the text interesting but on the other hand not directly relevant to your core interests.

At first, this process may appear to make the reading of appropriate texts more time consuming.  On the other hand, by going through a structured process it make the reading itself more beneficial. In the beginning, it may be necessary to produce a written critical synopsis,  particularly if the reading is being undertaken for more formal processes, such as preparation for the writing of an academic essay or dissertation.

To conclude, being a school-research lead or evidence-based practitioner is about developing the skills to ask better questions, and in doing so become a more proficient consumer of educational research.  A Journal Club which engages in the critical appraisal of a text or text(s) is one approach which can assist colleagues in meeting in this aim.  In my next two posts I will look in more detail about the mechanics of running a successful Journal Club.

A link to resources produced by Wallace and Wray which will help you produce a critical synopsis can be found using this link.


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