How to Write a Critical Review of a Journal Article
What is a Critical Review of a Journal Article?
A critical review of a journal article evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of an article’s ideas and content. It provides description, analysis and interpretation that allow readers to assess the article’s value.
FUTURE REVIEWS: COPY THIS COLUMN INTO A NEW GINGKOAPP TREE FILE.
A Critical Review
- evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the article’s ideas and content .
- provide a description, analysis and interpretation allowing for assessment of the article’s value.
- Approach the literature review with an open mind by examining different points of view.
Before You Read the Article
- What does the title lead you to expect about the article?
- Study any sub-headings to understand how the author organized the content.
- Read the abstract for a summary of the author’s arguments.
- Study the list of references to determine what research contributed to the author’s arguments. Are the references recent? Do they represent important work in the field?
- If possible, read about the author to learn what authority he or she has to write about the subject.
- Consult Web of Science to see if other writers have cited the author’s work. (Please see ‘How to use E-Indexes’.) Has the author made an important contribution to the field of study?
Before reading the article
Reading the Article: Points to Consider
Read the article carefully. Record your impressions and note sections suitable for quoting.
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the author’s purpose? To survey and summarize research on a topic? To present an argument that builds on past research? To refute another writer’s argument?
- Does the author define important terms?
- Is the information in the article fact or opinion? (Facts can be verified, while opinions arise from interpretations of facts.) Does the information seem well-researched or is it unsupported?
- What are the author’s central arguments or conclusions? Are they clearly stated? Are they supported by evidence and analysis?
- If the article reports on an experiment or study, does the author clearly outline methodology and the expected result?
- Is the article lacking information or argumentation that you expected to find?
- Is the article organized logically and easy to follow?
- Does the writer’s style suit the intended audience? Is the style stilted or unnecessarily complicated?
- Is the author’s language objective or charged with emotion and bias?
- If illustrations or charts are used, are they effective in presenting information?
Reading the article
- Record impressions
- Note sections for quoting
- To survey and summarize research topic?
- To present an argument that builds on past research?
- To refute another writer’s argument?
- Are they clearly stated?
- Are they supported by evidence and analysis?
Prepare an Outline
Read over your notes.
Choose a statement that expresses the central purpose or thesis of your review. When thinking of a thesis, consider the author’s intentions and whether or not you think those intentions were successfully realized.
Eliminate all notes that do not relate to your thesis. Organize your remaining points into separate groups such as points about structure, style, or argument. Devise a logical sequence for presenting these ideas.
Remember that all of your ideas must support your central thesis.
Prepare the outline
1) Read over your notes.
2) Choose a statement that expresses your central purpose or thesis of your review.
Consider the author’s intentions and whether or not you think those intentions were successfully realized.
3) Eliminate all notes not related to the thesis.
4) Organize remaining points into separate groups; i.e. about structure, style or argument. Logically present these ideas.
All of your ideas must support the central thesis.
Write the First Draft
The review should begin with a complete citation of the article. For example:
Platt, Kevin M. F. “History and Despotism, or: Hayden White vs. Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.” Rethinking History 3:3 (1999) : 247-269.
The first paragraph may contain:
- a statement of your thesis
- the author’s purpose in writing the article
- comments on how the article relates to other work on the same subject
- information about the author’s reputation or authority in the field
The body of the review should:
- state your arguments in support of your thesis
- follow the logical development of ideas that you mapped out in your outline
- include quotations from the article which illustrate your main ideas
The concluding paragraph may:
- summarize your review
- restate your thesis
Revise the First Draft
Ideally, you should leave your first draft for a day or two before revising. This allows you to gain a more objective perspective on your ideas. Check for the following when revising:
- grammar and punctuation errors
- organization, logical development and solid support of your thesis
- errors in quotations or in references
You may make major revisions in the organization or content of your review during the revision process.
Revising can even lead to a radical change in your central thesis.
Print your draft column
And revise this first draft.
Writing an analytical paper
A key point to remember, then, is that very few assignment titles at university level will require pure description, and most will test your skills of analysis in some capacity. So try to look for the critical point in the essay title.
Unfortunately, it is not very easy to explain exactly what ‘being analytical’ means. Many tutors say that students need to be more analytical, but saying precisely how to be more analytical (and by implication, more critical) is tricky! The following list is a starting point in helping to build up a picture of what is required in ‘analysis’.
- Bringing out the importance of a given aspect of your reading (not just saying again what the writer says).
- Getting the overview/bigger picture, rather than describing an example or case in lots of detail.
- Picking out the key or central aspect of a piece of literature you are reading, rather than describing it from start to finish and ‘telling the story’.
- Evaluating (that is, indicating the strengths and weaknesses of) what you are discussing. This is the highest order skill in Bloom’s taxonomy of learning (1976), which continues to influence much assessment practice in universities. It requires you to ‘stand back’ and observe the topic at greater length.
- Comparing different theories to show what they have in common and how they differ (not just saying what the theories are).
- Showing a range of different interpretations of a given fact, detail, opinion or item of literature.
- Adopting the approach that no single theory is the correct one and that there are aspects of all theories that are worth retaining.
- Looking for new questions, as well as answering old ones.
- Avoiding simplistic and passive agreement with the assignment title.
- Adopting a challenging approach to what you read - that is, not just accepting other people’s word for it.
- Showing how theories fit in with each other;
- Indicating different schools of thought, and developing your own perspective based on these.
- Recognising the limitations of your own perspective as a writer, and the inevitable impact that your own values and beliefs will have on how you express your opinions.
3000 word essay in One Day
Considerations for scientific writing
Source: Academic Skills Development, Uni. of Exeter
Accuracy and Objectivity
Both content, e.g. statistics or procedures followed in an experiment, and language use, i.e. choice of words, is what scientific writing aims for in conveying information and ideas.
Support your ideas and arguments with appropriate evidence or reasoning.
Smyth, T.R. 2004. The Principles of Writing in Psychology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Ch2.