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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
NOTE: Use the same bibliographic citation format as you would for any bibliography, works cited or reference list. It will follow a standard documentation style such as MLA or APA.
Be sure to ask your instructor which citation style to use. For frequently used style guides consult Carleton's University Library's Citing Your Sources guide.
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.
- To introduce the source, its main ideas, key details, and its place within the field
- To present your assessment of the quality of the source
In general, the introduction of your critical review should include
- An embedded citation of the source within the sentence, which includes
- Author(s) name
- Title of the source
- A brief summary of the source. Use the following questions to guide you:
- What is the author's central purpose?
- What methods or theoretical frameworks were used to accomplish this purpose?
- What topic areas, chapters, sections, or key points did the author use to structure the source?
- What were the results or findings of the study?
- How were the results or findings interpreted? How were they related to the original problem (author's view of evidence rather than objective ﬁndings)?
- For example: This book is about..., The setting is..., The main character..., The theme is ..., The research was..., The main points are..., The author argues that...
- The background or research context of this source. Use the following questions to guide you:
- Who conducted the research? What were/are their interests?
Why did they do this research?
Was this research pertinent only within the author’s field, or did it have broader (even global) relevance?
On what prior research was this source based? What gap is the author attempting to address?
How important was the research question posed by the researcher?
- The analysis may look at weather the work is: focused, understable, persuasive, informative, original, well written, directed at the appriopriate audience, well researched, with appropriate conclusions
- Who conducted the research? What were/are their interests?
- Your overall opinion of the quality of the source. Think of this like a thesis or main argument.
- Present your evaluation of the source, providing evidence from the text (or other sources) to support your assessment.
In general, the body of your critical review should include
- The strengths and weaknesses of the source. Use the following questions to guide you:
- Is the material organized logically and with appropriate headings?
- Are there stylistic problems in logical, clarity or language?
- Were the author(s) able to answer the question (test the hypothesis) raised
- What was the objective of the study?
- Does all the information lead coherently to the purpose of the study?
- Are the methods valid for studying the problem or gap?
- Could the study be duplicated from the information provided?
- Is the experimental design logical and reliable?
- How are the data organized? Is it logical and interpretable?
- Do the results reveal what the researcher intended?
- Do the authors present a logical interpretation of the results?
- Have the limitations of the research been addressed?
- Does the study consider other key studies in the field or other research possibilities or directions?
- How was the signiﬁcance of the work described?
- A logical presentation of your ideas. You could select one of the following methods of organization:
- Follow the structure of the journal article (e.g. Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion) - highlighting the strengths and weaknesses in each section
- Present the weaknesses of the article, and then the strengths of the article (or vice versa).
- Group your ideas according to different research themes presented in the source
- Group the strengths and weaknesses of the article into the following areas: originality, reliability, validity, relevance, and presentation
- To summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the article as a whole
- To assert the article’s practical and theoretical significance
In general, the conclusion of your critical review should include
- A restatement of your overall opinion
- A summary of the key strengths and weaknesses of the research that support your overall opinion of the source
- An evaluation of the significance or success of the research. Use the following questions to guide you:
- Did the research reported in this source result in the formation of new questions, theories or hypotheses by the authors or other researchers?
- Have other researchers subsequently supported or refuted the observations or interpretations of these authors?
- Did the research provide new factual information, a new understanding of a phenomenon in the ﬁeld, a new research technique?
- Did the research produce any practical applications?
- What are the social, political, technological, or medical implications of this research?
- How do you evaluate the significance of the research?
- Find out what style guide you are required to follow (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago) and follow the guidelines to create a reference list (may be called a bibliography or works cited).
- Be sure to include citations in the text when you refer to the source itself or external sources.
- Check out our Citing Your Sources Guide for more information.
How can I improve my critical review?
- Read assignment instructions carefully and refer to them throughout the writing process.
- Make an outline of your main sections before you write.
- If your professor does not assign a topic or source, you must choose one yourself. Select a source that interests you and is written clearly so you can understand it.