This is a guide for analyzing the content and rhetoric of news articles and other mainstream media documents that report on science.
- Characterize the general purpose of the article: is it reporting on a new discovery? analyzing a scientific controversy or issue under debate? profiling the work of a scientist or group of scientists? explaining a basic concept? highlighting key questions raised by new data that have yet to be answered? other? a combination of the above? Does it come to a definite conclusion, or is it more open-ended?
- How objective is the article? Is it informative, argumentative, or a combination of the two? How does that affect the article’s content and tone? Does the article seem biased in any way? If so, is that bias a detriment?
- Consider the examples the author uses to support his/her main points. Are they appropriate? Which are the most effective, and why? Do the examples raise any questions unacknowledged by the author?
- Examine the author’s use of metaphors, analogies, or other comparisons. How effective are they? Do such literary devices complement or detract from the scientific basis of the article? To what extent?
- What kinds of authorities or experts does the article cite? How effectively are they used by the author? Consider people, institutions, studies, historical documents, etc. How much authority do they add to the article?
Questions Related to the Scientific Method:
- Look at how the author discusses hypotheses, theories, data, observations, and/or experiments. How much information is given? What kinds of things are left out? Are these omissions important or not? Are you provided with enough data to make an informed judgment about the conclusions of cited research, or will you have to do more investigation by consulting other sources?
- Analyze any statistics cited in the article. Check out this list of questions to ask about statistics in news articles to help you assess the article’s quantitative data. This article on the use of statistics in science is a helpful resource, too.
- Does the article comment on or characterize the scientific method? If so, how? What does it teach you about how science gets done, how experiments might be set up, how data is gathered, how theories are devised or changed, etc.?
Questions that Stimulate Reflection and Research:
- Does the author assume her readers will possess certain kinds of knowledge? Do these assumptions impede your understanding of the article? What do you need to know that you didn’t know before?
- How does the information in the article correspond to your own knowledge of science? Did you learn new things? Did some items contradict your previous beliefs or knowledge? Did the article, in general, seem accurate? How does it correspond to what you know about the scientific method, genetics, evolution, etc.?
- What sources does the article point provide, in case you’d like to do follow-up research? How specific are these references? How much credibility do they provide?