How to write a critical review

By March 21, 2019Academic Papers

writing a critical review

What is meant by critical?

A critical review requires you to question the information and opinions in a text and present your own evaluation or judgement of the text. In order to do this well you should take the try to understand the topic from different perspectives (i.e. read related texts) and in relation to the theories, approaches and frameworks in your course.

Criteria For Evaluating Academic Texts

Critical evaluation requires that you understand and analyse the text and then evaluate it . You should take into account the following when evaluating the text and demonstrate these in your critical review.

1.     Writing and structure of the article or book. (e.g  the style and expression)

2.     Argumentation and use of evidence

3.     Methodology

4.     Relevance

5.     Significance and contribution to its field

Critical Review Structure

You should structure your review in the following way:


The length of an introduction is usually one paragraph for a journal article review and two or three paragraphs for a longer book review. You should include:


       The title of the article or book.

       The author

       An overview of the article or book stating its aim and identifying the aim argument

       Your response to the article (positive, negative, mixed (For an article the introduction should be about one paragraph; for a book review the introduction should be about two – three paragraphs)


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 main points and arguments presented in the article should be summarised (this section should be no longer than half the 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).

       discussion of the points raised,

       questioning the arguments,

       expressing agreement / disagreement,

       considering agreement / disagreement.

       positive and / or negative judgements on the author’s ideas, methods, argument, expression, organisation etc.

       suggestions for how the article could be improved can be explained here also.

In long reviews, you can address each criteria you choose in a paragraph, including both negative and positive points. For shorter critical reviews where your comments will be briefer, include one paragraph of positive aspects and one of negative.


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.

Points to consider

       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?

       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?

       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?


       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?





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sample critical review

Just Confessions

  Saul Kassin and Gisli Gudjonsson, in their article for Scientific American Mind, “True Crimes, False Confessions,” argue that “society should discuss the urgent need to reform practices that contribute to false confessions and to require mandatory videotaping of all interviews and interrogations” (2005, p. 26).  After analyzing their argument, I shall argue that, although one might object that Kassin and Gudjonsson focus too heavily on the importance of protecting criminal suspects, they provide a compelling argument that social justice requires such reforms as mandatory video-tapping of police interrogations.

In developing their case for the need to reform interrogation tactics, Kassin and Gudjonsson survey a number of studies regarding the role of confessions in criminal investigations.  For example, they are at pains to provide evidence that interrogations are often influenced by a bias on the part of the interrogator.  Further concern is found in the fact that Miranda rights, as found in the American legal system, are insufficient safeguards, given that suspects, especially innocent ones, often waive those rights.  Finally, Kassin and Gudjonsson note that aggressive interrogation tactics can often produce false confessions.

    What makes these findings most troubling, according to Kassin and Gudjonsson, is the strong correlation between false confession and wrongful conviction.  Trial jurors, we are told, are inclined to give disproportionate weight to a confessions, even taking it to outweigh so-called “hard evidence.”  As a characteristic example, Kassin and Gudjonsson cite the case of Bruce Godschalk.  Even when DNA evidence proved Godschalk could not have been the rapist, the District Attorney of the case refused to release him from prison, stating that “…I trust my detective and his tape-recorded evidence” (Kassin and Gudjonsson, 2005, p. 28).  Because of this tendency on the part of jurors and prosecutors, together with the facts listed above regarding the potential for unrestricted interrogations to elicit false confessions,  Kassin and Gudjonsson argue for the need to reform police interrogation tactics.

    Underlying their argument is the implicit moral principle that social justice requires that we do everything we can to minimize the potential to wrongly convict innocent persons.  This may seem obvious, but one could reasonably question whether it puts too much emphasis on protecting potentially innocent suspects and not enough on convicting potentially guilty criminals.  In a perfectly just system, criminals would always be brought to justice and treated appropriately, and innocent suspects would always be exonerate.  However, any system devised and implemented by humans must deal with the reality of imperfection.

    The difficult moral question we need to ask is how we are to balance the needs of society to protect itself from criminals while at the same time protecting the rights of innocent persons.  We need to ask at what cost we are willing to limit the ability of police and Crown prosecutors to prosecute criminal suspects.   Imagine, for example, the following two systems: (1) Almost no innocent persons are ever convicted, but a very high percentage of recidivist offenders are able to escape conviction, (2) A very high percentage of offenders are caught and brought to justice; however, a small but non-negligible percentage (say 3%) of innocent persons are unjustly caught in the system and thus wrongly punished for crimes they never committed.  Neither of these is very palatable, but if forced to choose, my intuitions favor result (2).  Of course, there are many variables at work here, and I do not have the space to delve into a detailed discussion of all the relevant trade-offs.  My basic point is that social justice requires not only that we protect innocent individuals from prosecution, but that we hold guilty persons accountable for their actions.

    While I think that this is a reasonable worry to raise given the tenor of Kassin and Gudjonsson’s article, I do not think it ultimately undermines their argument.  That is, I think one might reasonably object that they are overly focused on the possibility of false confessions without saying much about the utility of true confessions.  However, their specific proposal that interrogations be video-taped does not seem to diminish the ability of police to effectively interrogate suspects and, when possible, to elicit a confession.  Indeed, they conclude their essay by citing a study showing that police largely found the practice of video-taping to be quite useful and not to inhibit criminal investigations.

So, even if one thinks that Kassin and Gudjonsson are a bit one-side in focusing on false confessions, ultimately I think these authors provide a compelling argument for the need for such reforms as mandatory video-taping of police interrogations.


Kassin, Saul and Gudjonsson, Gisli (2005). “True Crimes, False Confessions,” Scientific American Mind, July, pp. 24-31.






Originally posted 2017-11-07 00:22:56.



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