The advice in this brochure is a general guide only. We strongly recommend that you also follow your assignment instructions and seek clarification from your lecturer/tutor if needed.
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 usually requires 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.
Next: Structure of a critical review
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Part of becoming a successful critical reader is being able to translate the thoughts you had whilst reading into your writing. Below are some written examples of the observations a critical reader may make whilst commenting on various issues in text.
NOTE: The critical analysis component of each example below is highlighted in blue.
Further examples of critical writing can be found on the UniLearning Website.
Overgeneralisations and assumptions
Researchers often make simplifying assumptions when tackling a complex problem. While the results might provide some insight, these answers will also likely have some limitations.
Researchers may simplify the conditions under which an experiment occurs, compared to the real world, in order to be able to more easily investigate what is going on.
Objectivity of research
Some research may be biased in its structure.
Limitations due to sample group
Limitations can arise due to participant numbers. Example:
Limitations can also arise if there is a limited range of participants.
Limits to applicability
There can be concerns with studies’ applicability, for a number of reasons.
Results not replicated
One such reason could be that the study results have not been replicated in any other study. If results have not been replicated, it indicates that the results are suggestive, rather than conclusive.
Long term effects unknown
There would be limits to applicability if long term effects have not been tested.
It is important to look for things that have not been discussed within studies to ascertain whether this would limit the applicability of the results.
Correlation vs. causation
It is important to be aware that just because one variable is correlated with another, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one variable is the cause of another.