University of Wisconsin–Madison

A Précis of a Research Article in Journalism

Professor Robert Hawkins
Journalism 265: Effects of Mass Communication

The goal of this assignment is to summarize an article presenting research on any aspect of mass communication content, use, or effects. You should concentrate on identifying the main points and conclusions of the research article and surmising the implications of the results obtained.

Picking an Article

  1. We encourage you to exercise your library information search skills (you’ll need them more again soon for the term paper, among other things) to locate articles you think you would be most interested in. But come up with more than one title to look for: articles are often less (or more) interesting and useful than their titles sound like. But you can also go straight to mass communication journals and leaf through. This isn’t as efficient, but what you learn about articles is a lot richer.
  2. Your article must come from a research journal and deal with either the content, uses (why, how people/societies use), or the effects of mass communication. Your TA will talk more about this, but you can find examples in Journalism Quarterly, Communication Research, Journal of Communication, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, and Journal of Consumer Research. Newspapers, general-audience magazines, and the world-wide web are not appropriate sources.
  3. Skim through the article (actually, you should skim at least several to decide). What are they really doing, and is it something you’d like to learn more about? Two qualifications:
  • This must be a data-based article (experiment, survey, content analysis, interviews, focus group, case study, etc.). You should not use an essay, literature review, critique, response, meta-analysis, or a piece that only presents theory.
  • Just as important: can you understand what they did? If the results have tables with means and percentages, or even correlations, you should be able to figure it out. But if you find equations or tables you can’t understand (and some articles will use pretty sophisticated statistics), then move to another one.


Guidelines for Writing

Your final draft should be four paragraphs within the limits of two double-spaced typed pages. (A few articles may be better served by something different than the four-paragraph plan outline below. If yours doesn’t fit, think about why it doesn’t, what would be better, and then talk with your TA.)

  • Heading—your name, ID #, and discussion section #
  • Full and correct citation of article. You may use the citation style you find in the references.
  • Paragraph one should describe why the study was done, and may require you to summarize or prioritize from a number of different issues the author(s) raises. Is it addressing a practical question, describing a phenomenon, clearing up uncertainties from previous research, or testing a theory? Do not repeat every hypothesis verbatim; rather, try to provide a coherent summary of the main ideas.
  • Paragraph two should summarize what methods were used to test the hypotheses or investigate the research question (What did they do?). Again, verbatim detail is neither expected nor desired. Instead, identify what procedures in general were employed and what characteristics of the sample are relevant.
  • Paragraph three should summarize the results of the research (What did they find out?). Again, don’t worry about specific details, and certainly don’t worry about statistical tests. Instead, try to describe clearly the conclusion of the study.
  • Paragraph four should identify the significance or the major implications of the research findings. Beyond restating results, what does this mean? How does it change things?


Please Note

Direct quotes from the article are not appropriate in this assignment; your goal is to summarize rather than to extract specific phrases. Attach a photocopy of the article to your précis. Papers should be expository or argumentative in nature and should be regarded as exercises in scholarly writing for an audience at your own level of research sophistication. Do not write in a breezy conversational style that would characterize a personal narrative.

Please do not leave the writing of your papers to the last minute. Have consideration for your readers so that your ideas may be expressed in clear, succinct, and stylistically appropriate prose.