How to write a critical review
The critical review is an assignment that asks you to summarise and evaluate a scholarly text.In this case, scholarly material written by academics on the theories and foreign policy and international relations. 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.
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 International Relations and Foreign Policy Analysis course.
What is meant by evaluation or judgement? Here you decide the strengths and weaknesses of a text. Evaluating requires an understanding of not just the content of the text, but also an understanding of a text’s purpose, its context, 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.
Critical reviews, can be both short (one page) and long (four pages), usually have a similar structure. You expected not to exceed 1500 words within reasonable limits (100 words above or below the limits can be accepted).
Introduction: You briefly summarize the key thesis of the text and provide a rationale for why you have selected this article or book.
The main body: You can also briefly explain and summarize the author’s purpose/intentions, concepts and key arguments throughout the text and you may briefly describe how the text is organised.
The critique should be a balanced discussion and evaluation of the strengths, weakness 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.
- More importantly explain to what extent the selected literature contribute to you’re a d general knowledge in the discipline.
This is usually a very short paragraph.
Restate your overall opinion of the text or texts.
- Compare strengths and weaknesses of the texts if you are reviewing several articles.
- Briefly present recommendations.
- Explain briefly to what extent these contribute to your knowledge and understanding of international politics.
- If necessary some further qualification or explanation of your judgement can be included. This can help your critique sound fair and reasonable.
If you used quotations from the selected texts in your review you should also include the page number of the references. Please include the full references of the texts you have selected. Author, the date, the title, the publisher or the name of the journal, use Harvard Referencing system.
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:
- 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?
- Locate the topic sentences and highlight the main points as you read.
- 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:
- Review your summary notes
- Rewrite them in your own words and in complete sentences
- Use reporting verbs and phrases (eg; The author describes…, Smith argues that …).
- If you include unique or specialist phrases from the text, use quotation
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||
|Argument and use of evidence||
|Writing style and text structure||
What do critical readers do?
- They question as they read.
- They do not necessarily accept what they read as 100% accurate or the only way of discussing an idea.
- They identify the positive (useful) and negative (less useful or weak) aspects of an argument.
- They analyze, evaluate and identify the component parts of arguments so that they can fully understand the author’s ideas.
- They look for content (basic facts), themes (overall ideas or arguments or claims), concepts (analytical categories, assumptions and definitions) and based on these they are able to raise issues about a text (how the ideas can be applied in practice or what the problems might be in practice or how these do contribute to knowledge).
- They find links between authors. They can identify which authors are talking about similar ideas even when they sound different.
- They form opinions about what they have read.
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