Are you struggling with understanding the requirements of a critical review? Too often what should be a critical review becomes a descriptive summary which loses marks.
The most proficient critical reviews are those which demonstrate analysis of the work, and evaluation of the arguments presented. The aim with a critical review is to demonstrate that you understand the subject matter, whether it be a full journal, a theory or hypothesis. In addition, that you are able to analyse, evaluate and weigh-up evidence by applying appropriate criteria for assessment and benchmarking.
Sounds really simple in principle, but producing an effective critical review requires understanding some practice. Here are some tips and tricks to get your started.
Skills for Producing a Critical Review
A critical review is the presentation of a summary and evaluation / assessment of the ideas and information presented in a journal article, or other piece of text. The aim is to express you views and opinions based on prior knowledge and wider reading. An effective critical view requires careful thought and identification of the strengths and weakness of the materials. This requires two key skills:
- The ability to find information through examination of literature in the subject area so that you are well informed about the topic.
- The ability to effectively review; in other words, the ability to question the information in the text and draw a conclusion based on a balanced and objective judgement.
Underlining these two skills requires a sub-set of abilities such as being able to identify the central idea of piece of work, the purpose, and the audience of the work. In order to deliver a good critical review, the ability to summarise is crucial. This means being able to present the author’s original ideas correctly, and that it is clear to your readers what questions are being addressed. So, discuss the important points, making sure you clearly state the evidence used in the text to support both the arguments presented and the conclusions.
Always be consistent, so that the reader can understand the content of the paper under review without having to read it themselves. Also, a key point is to ensure that your summary does not become too descriptive – it is just that – a summary. It is the evaluation section that is the hallmark of a critical review that stands out.
To be able to do this, you should show the ability to identify (and analyse) the content and key constructs covered in the text and pinpoint how they are related and impact on one another. Once you can do this you can prepare for writing a critical review.
Writing a Critical Review
When planning a critical review ask your self the following questions:
- What is the main subject of the text? What questions are the authors attempting to answer?
- Where did the authors get the evidence for their information and conclusions (ask yourself if their sources are reliable, credible and from trusted sources)?
- What are the key issues and points in the text – are these logical and coherent?
- Are the interpretations put on the information by the author accurate, valid, realistic, and balanced or is there a bias in the conclusions that they have drawn. If you can see a bias, evaluate why this might be the case from the credentials of the authors. Are they trying to put forward a particular viewpoint to support other work, or a specific organisation?
- Do the arguments correlate with existing viewpoints in the subject area – if not, why not? This is where the real critical skills come into play. Identify how the work differs from existing work and evaluate whether their view is valid, and how they have supported their stance.
Once you have answered all of these questions (Key point: It is good practice to answer these in bullet points as a rough draft and initial structure for your final review) building your critical review is easy to do. It is even easier if you follow the structure we have outlined below.
- Introduction: Tells the audience what the work is covering, (i.e., what is being critically reviewed), with an aim and key initial arguments.
- A summary giving the main points of the article under review and some examples (purpose and organisation for example).
- Critique: Presents pros/cons of the work, highlighting strengths and weaknesses any other important features. This is where the use of very clear criteria should be laid and supported with valid and credible sources.
- Conclusion: Restates the overall assessment and evaluation of the work, and explanations that demonstrate why this judgement is reasonable.
Following these steps and remembering at all times to demonstrate that there is supporting evidence and a clearly balanced and objectively weighed body of evidence will ensure that your critical review is professional, accurate and coherent. Most importantly, remember you are not looking for negative perspectives (although there may be some). Your aim is to objectively summarise and present the information contained in the paper and evaluate whether it has value and relevance in the subject area.
So your key take-aways are:
- Ensure your arguments are clear and concise and you report on the paper content objectively.
- Plan your review before writing – this ensures consistency and logical flow.
- Check the sources of the text and the authors’ credentials.
- Present information – do not just look for weaknesses/ negative points.