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Writing a Critical Review
Purpose of a Critical Review
The critical review is a writing task that asks you to summarise and evaluate a text. The critical review can be of a book, a chapter, or a journal article. Writing the critical review may require you to read the selected text in detail and to also read other related texts so that you can present a fair and reasonable evaluation of the selected text.
What is meant by critical?
At university, to be critical does not mean to criticise in a negative manner. Rather it requires you to question the information and opinions in a text and present your evaluation or judgement of the text. To do this well, you should attempt to understand the topic from different perspectives (i.e. read related texts) and in relation to the theories, approaches and frameworks in your course.
What is meant by evaluation or judgement?
Here you decide the strengths and weaknesses of a text. This is usually based on specific criteria. Evaluating requires an understanding of not just the content of the text, but also an understanding of a text’s purpose, the intended audience and why it is structured the way it is.
What is meant by analysis?
Analysing requires separating the content and concepts of a text into their main components and then understanding how these interrelate, connect and possibly influence each other.
Structure of a Critical Review
Critical reviews, both short (one page) and long (four pages), usually have a similar structure. Check your assignment instructions for formatting and structural specifications. Headings are usually optional for longer reviews and can be helpful for the reader.
The length of an introduction is usually one paragraph for a journal article review and two or three paragraphs for a longer book review. Include a few opening sentences that announce the author(s) and the title, and briefly explain the topic of the text. Present the aim of the text and summarise the main finding or key argument. Conclude the introduction with a brief statement of your evaluation of the text. This can be a positive or negative evaluation or, as is usually the case, a mixed response.

Present a summary of the key points along with a limited number of examples. You can also briefly explain the author’s purpose/intentions throughout the text and you may briefly describe how the text is organised. The summary should only make up about a third of the critical review.
The critique should be a balanced discussion and evaluation of the strengths, weakness and notable features of the text. Remember to base your discussion on specific criteria. Good reviews also include other sources to support your evaluation (remember to reference).
You can choose how to sequence your critique. Here are some examples to get you started:
• Most important to least important conclusions you make about the text.
• If your critique is more positive than negative, then present the negative points first and the positive last.
• If your critique is more negative than positive, then present the positive points first and the negative last.
• If there are both strengths and weakness for each criterion you use, you need to decide overall what your judgement is. For example, you may want to comment on a key idea in the text and have both positive and negative comments. You could begin by stating what is good about the idea and then concede and explain how it is limited in some way. While this example shows a mixed evaluation, overall you are probably being more negative than positive.
• In long reviews, you can address each criteria you choose in a paragraph, including both negative and positive points. For very short critical reviews (one page or less) where your comments will be briefer, include a paragraph of positive aspects and another of negative.
• You can also include recommendations for how the text can be improved in terms of ideas, research approach; theories or frameworks used can also be included in the critique section.
This is usually a very short paragraph.
• Restate your overall opinion of the text.
• Briefly present recommendations.
• If necessary some further qualification or explanation of your judgement can be included. This can help your critique sound fair and reasonable.
If you have used other sources in you review you should also include a list of references at the end of the review.
Summarising and paraphrasing for the critical review
Summarising and paraphrasing are essential skills for academic writing and in particular, the critical review. To summarise means to reduce a text to its main points and its most important ideas. The length of your summary for a critical review should only be about one quarter to one third of the whole critical review. The best way to summarise is to:
1. Scan the text. Look for information that can be deduced from the introduction, conclusion and the title and headings. What do these tell you about the main points of the article?
2. Locate the topic sentences and highlight the main points as you read.
3. Reread the text and make separate notes of the main points. Examples and evidence do not need to be included at this stage. Usually they are used selectively in your critique.
Paraphrasing means putting it into your own words. Paraphrasing offers an alternative to using direct quotations in your summary (and the critique) and can be an efficient way to integrate your summary notes. The best way to paraphrase is to:
1. Review your summary notes
2. Rewrite them in your own words and in complete sentences
3. Use reporting verbs and phrases (eg; The author describes…, Smith argues that …).
4. If you include unique or specialist phrases from the text, use quotation marks.
Some General Criteria for Evaluating Texts
The following list of criteria and focus questions may be useful for reading the text and for preparing the critical review. Remember to check your assignment instructions for more specific criteria and focus questions that should form the basis of your review. The length of the review/ assignment will determine how many criteria you will address in your critique.
Criteria Possible focus questions
Significance and contribution to the field • What is the author’s aim?
• To what extent has this aim been achieved?
• What does this text add to the body of knowledge? (This could be in terms of theory, data and/or practical application)
• What relationship does it bear to other works in the field?
• What is missing/not stated?
• Is this a problem?
Methodology or approach (This usually applies to more formal, research- based texts) • What approach was used for the research? (eg; quantitative or qualitative, analysis/review of theory or current practice, comparative, case study, personal reflection etc…)
• How objective/biased is the approach?
• Are the results valid and reliable?
• What analytical framework is used to discuss the results?
Argument and use of evidence • Is there a clear problem, statement or hypothesis?
• What claims are made?
• Is the argument consistent?
• What kinds of evidence does the text rely on?
• How valid and reliable is the evidence?
• How effective is the evidence in supporting the argument?
• What conclusions are drawn?
• Are these conclusions justified?
Writing style and text structure • Does the writing style suit the intended audience? (eg; expert/non-expert, academic/non- academic)
• What is the organising principle of the text? Could it be better organised?

Writing a Critique

The title page is the first page and includes the class name and number, title of paper, author, and date. A title page does not have a page number and is not counted in the total pages required.

The introduction outlines the purpose or topic of the paper, and the introduction should be considered a brief, concise paragraph or two that summarizes the content of the paper.

The literature review is the main section of the paper and includes information based on paragraphs. Remember paragraphs should have one main idea that is in direct support of the thesis statement. Within each body paragraph, there will be a topic sentence (main idea of the paragraph) and supporting idea.

The conclusion or summary is the portion of the paper where you will offer concluding or summarizing comments. This portion of the paper is a review and basically tells the reader what the outcome of the paper means.

What is a critique? A critique is an analysis of a written text based on evidence, which is extracted from the document. A critique can also be applied to media images as well as spoken discourse; however, most university courses focus on the criticism of written documents.

Initially, in assessing written works, the work itself must be understood. If the content is misunderstood, then the critique will be misapplied. Read through the piece at least twice—first for content, and then for analysis. When analyzing text mark areas that are of significance.

Underline key terms and phrases. Also, if there are areas that are unclear or confusing, those sections should be marked. Be sure to ask questions about areas that are not fully understood as these may be critical to the analysis being conducted. Once the text has been read and understood, the text which has been analyzed can be broken apart, and a critique can be written.

Critiques serve to examine an author’s claim/argument. Certain questions should be posed of the text:
? What is the author’s main claim or thesis statement? If no such statement exists, what serves as the focus of the work?
? How clearly does the author present the problem or thesis statement?
? How does the author achieve the goal of the work? Does the author do so effectively? Why or why not?
? What is the particular evidence used to support the author’s claim?
? How well does the author describe methods or supporting evidence?
? Does the author logically support his/her argument with an organized structure and coherent development?
? Do the sections make sense as presented? Why or why not?

Once these questions are answered, the critique can be written, analyzing the text that has been assessed. In writing a critique, both strengths and weaknesses of the argument should be acknowledged, beginning with the main claim of the specific text. After discussing the claim’s efficacy, the supporting evidence should be examined for pertinence and importance. Has the supporting information been used appropriately and accurately? Each piece of “important” evidence should be addressed for strengths and weaknesses, but it is important to remember that when assessing individual pieces of evidence, each piece should be looked at individually or in one paragraph to avoid confusion in organization. All too often, writers try to analyze a chunk of text that is too big for a short analysis paper and the important elements can become lost. Small sections of text should be assessed for a higher level of examination accuracy.

Another important component in critique writing is establishing transitions and continuity between discussion topics. As the author of the primary text has attempted to draw links between the claim and supporting evidence, the sections of the critique should attempt to develop links between claims made regarding the textual information.

Organization tip—make an outline to assist in the development of ideas and arguments.

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