Evaluating Written Works & Proposing Solutions

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you will learn about evaluating excerpts of written works and learn how to propose your own solutions to the problems stated in these sources.

Problem Solving

Over the course of your academic career, you've probably had experience stating a problem and proposing a solution. Sometimes, the problem is one you came up with, but sometimes you might be asked to propose your own solution to a problem that is stated in another source. Alternatively, you might have a problem in mind, but need a source to back up the fact that it really is an issue. In either case, the steps you take will be similar.

First, it's important to note that you may not always need or have the entire source. Excerpts from sources can be used just as easily as whole sources. What you always need to do is evaluate, or determine the quality of, your source. Once you have done this, you can propose your solution, using other sources to back it up.

Evaluating Excerpts

Even if you are only using a small excerpt, your source still needs to be credible. That is, it has to come from a reputable site, magazine, newspaper, etc. Let's take the following excerpt from National Geographic as an example:

'National parks protect the historic buildings in which America's history was made, places like Independence Hall, Ellis Island, and the San Antonio Missions. But some of these hallowed edifices are crumbling and in desperate need of repair.'

This comes from a National Geographic article entitled 'Top 10 Issues Facing National Parks.' We know that this is a usable excerpt because it comes from National Geographic. It is an established magazine with a well-known reputation for being factual and reliable, which makes it a credible source.

ID The Problem

The next step in evaluating the source is to make sure the problem you want to talk about is clearly stated. If you can't easily tell what the issue being discussed is, then you need a different source or a different excerpt from that source. As you can see in the National Geographic example, the issue is that buildings in national parks are 'crumbling and in desperate need of repair.' The issue is clearly stated and easy to understand, and so this is a good excerpt to use.

National monuments like Ellis Island are in need of repair
Ellis Island in 1905

Proposing Solutions

Once you have evaluated the source and identified the problem, you then need to propose your own solution. One thing to keep in mind is that you do not want to just use the solution they propose. In the case of the National Geographic article, they don't propose one, so it's not an issue. If your source did propose a solution, but you want to propose a different one, that is completely acceptable. What you want to avoid is restating an already established solution.

Just as the issue needs to be clearly stated, so does your solution. Your reader should have no trouble understanding what you are proposing. Let's look back at the National Geographic example. A proposed solution might be:

'More people are needed to maintain these buildings. One solution would be to start a search for volunteers in these areas who are willing to do maintenance work. If they are unskilled, a training program could be put into place.'

This clearly and simply outlines a possible solution to the problem.

Support Your Idea

Though the proposed solution is yours, you still need sources to back up that the idea can work. Otherwise, your reader has no reason to trust that it is an informed solution or that you thought the problem and other possible solutions through before proposing it.

You aren't going to find sources showing your exact idea, working on your exact problem. If you can, that means there is no reason for you to propose this solution, since it has already been done. However, you should be able to find examples of your solution, working on similar problems.

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