Inspiring the Critical Mind: Introducing the One-Point Multi-Skills Analysis

Patrick T. Randolph


English language learners (ELLs) often struggle with writing university-level research papers due to a lack of analytical tools and techniques to probe into the inner complexities of a topic. This article offers a practical solution to this issue by introducing the benefits of the One-Point Multi-Skills Analysis (OMA).

The Core Problems
The primary challenges that ELLs face when writing research papers are two-fold. First, they are often required to write about topics with which they are unfamiliar, fostering a sense of emotional, intellectual, and psychological discomfort.  Second, they are required to do this in a second or third language, and, if their vocabulary comprehension and usage are not on par with their native English using counterparts, this also sets them up for an experience ridden with anxiety and fear (Randolph, 2012).
To better understand why my students cringe at the mere mention of a research paper, I recently asked my advanced ELLs in my Intensive English Program (IEP) and credit-bearing university writing courses what central problems they encounter when required to write a research paper. Below is a list of the reported issues that were predominant in both classes:
(1) being asked to write a long research paper, which often results in writing very “shallow or undeveloped arguments”;
(2) not feeling comfortable about a topic because of being unfamiliar with it, which is usually due to a lack of factual or cultural background knowledge;
(3) struggling with some concepts being too abstract and hard to mentally visualize or understand;
(4) having inadequate vocabulary, which makes it difficult to convey crucial points in an articulate manner and make certain claims persuasive;
(5) thinking and writing about multiple viewpoints or the pros and cons of a topic at an in-depth level;
(6) being unprepared for the demands of having to read a text critically and write analytically about the topic.
The Solution: The One-Point Multi-Skills Analysis (OMA)
Before starting the OMA, I ask students to read an article and choose one major point that they will make the core topic of their analysis. An article may have two or three main points, but I ask that they focus on just one.  Once the students have selected their topic, I pair them with a partner and go over all the features that will become their written analysis. They begin by discussing the general idea of the article and explaining the point they will focus on and why it is of interest. Then, I have them find an example that supports their focus-point and ask them to paraphrase it. I ask that they explain why the example is used and how it supports their core point. Next, they discuss some positive points of the example, which is followed by a critical analysis of the example. Finally, I ask the pairs to discuss how they could incorporate some aspect of the point or example in their lives and apply it. Once the oral discussion is complete, the students are ready to write the six-paragraph OMA. Below is an explanation of each part of the OMA.
The One-Point Summary
This paragraph includes the basic reference information (i.e., author(s), date, title of the article) and a sentence or two about the general idea of the article. Next, students address the one point they wish to concentrate on and summarize it, which usually requires a brief explanation about the focused topic. I tell the students to keep in mind that this should read like a full, well-developed paragraph that one that anyone can pick up, read, and understand. The reader should know exactly what the article is about and what the focus-point is that the student has chosen to concentrate on.
The Paraphrased Example
The second paragraph is a paraphrased version of an example that supports the focus-point and gives credence to its importance. The paraphrased example may be a case study or the result of an experiment. This part of the OMA also helps students see the importance of selecting and writing good examples to support claims in academic writing.
The Constructive Analysis
This paragraph requires students to analyze the example in a positive light and show support for why the author used that example in particular. For instance, students might explain how the author is an expert in the field and carefully selected an example or case study from a top university, an institution that does groundbreaking research; alternatively, the students might explain how the experiment in the example is based on current research that supports the argument in a transparent and tangible way.
The Critical Analysis
This section is a critical analysis of the example.  It may take the form of a critique about the example (perhaps focusing on why certain variables were not addressed), or it might be a genuine question about the example (e.g., why did the author choose to use research done on a short-term study versus a long-term one?).  I make it clear that whether students agree or disagree with an author, they need to explain why their critique is important or why their question is significant. In doing so, they articulate how their critique or question makes the example stronger, clearer, and more understandable for the reader.
Reflection and Application
This paragraph provides the students with an opportunity to reflect on their main point or on the example by discussing how it is related to their own life, academic research/major, or possible career trajectory. This section allows the students to nurture a personal connection to the material, thus making the topic a very real, concrete, and personal matter.
The Conclusion
The final paragraph requires the students to write a concise summary of the focus-point and its supporting example, briefly touch on the analysis, and then conclude with a short statement on how the topic relates to their personal lives.
Consequences of the OMA
From the above outline of the OMA, we can see that a number of critical thinking and writing skills are used, and this kind of analysis addresses many of the problems that my students discussed concerning the standard research paper. In addition to the challenges students reported above, one major problem that the OMA addresses is the clutter syndrome (Zinsser, 2001). Writing instructors are all aware of the panic mode that our students fall into, which often leads them to write “clutter” to fill a page or make a research paper “look long.” However, based on the reports of my students, this panic mode or clutter syndrome does not enter the picture, primarily because each paragraph in the OMA provides a particular function that is predicated on being concise, coherent, and communicative.
Another major benefit my students talk about when we reflect on the OMA is the idea of working carefully and closely with the one focused topic and looking at it from various perspectives (i.e., summarizing it as objectively as they can, paraphrasing an example that supports the topic, analyzing the example in a positive and critical light, reflecting on how it relates to their immediate lives as international students in a new host culture, and then summarizing all of their ideas in a coherent and concise conclusion).  All of these are skills exercised in a focused and methodical way so that the ELLs can dig deep into a topic without worrying about covering seven to ten pages and falling into the common trap of making shallow or underdeveloped arguments in order to fill up space. By following the structure of the OMA, a student can craft six carefully constructed paragraphs and develop the art of analysis.
Concluding Remarks
I have taught in IEPs that have either overused the research paper (i.e., requiring almost all levels to write one) or not assigned it at all. Neither of these options seemed to benefit the students. I suggest more programs consider helping our ELLs gain and develop the necessary tools and interest for writing the standard research paper that they will encounter at the university. In addition, if students are exposed to enough OMAs, they will most certainly recognize that a research paper is nothing more than multiple OMAs strategically synthesized in an effective way. They might also quickly become inspired with the desire to write naturally in an analytic style, looking at one topic from multiple perspectives and learning the true nature of education—the ability and craft of questioning and learning to use curiosity as the guide to reflective thinking.

Randolph, P. T. (2012). Using creative writing as a bridge to enhance academic writing. MITESOL 2011 Selected Conference Proceedings. 6, 91-108.
Zinsser, W. (2001). On writing well: The classic guide to writing nonfiction. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Patrick T. Randolph currently teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he specializes in vocabulary acquisition, creative and academic writing, speech, and debate. He would like to thank former colleagues from Illinois and Missouri for their discussions and brainstorming sessions that inspired the foundation for this kind of analysis.
NOTE: A version of this article was first published in TESOL’s SLW News—February 2016. Modified and reprinted with permission.
ITBE Link - July 2016