There is no formula, and that is a
good thing, because you
need to show a personal critical grasp. As with most academic tasks,
way is to see how other professionals do it – the more you read the
get. There are also variations according to what the article is about –
literature or policy review? A piece of actual empirical research?I am discussing perhaps the most common
format below – a journal article which reviews the literature, does
and discusses the results.
Remember that you are summarising AND
commenting, picking up
strengths and weaknesses. There are a few points to help you here,
Until you get the experience, and the confidence that follows, you
thinking of doing the following:
Stick with the author(s) themselves
first. Try to see how
the argument actually works in the author you are reading. You do this
you want to show you can understand and summarise an argument AND make
comments about it. Technical criticism
can ALWAYS be done, since no piece is ever going to be perfect, and
admitted by the authors(s) themselves very often. This sort of internal
criticism cannot be simply denied or dismissed on the grounds that you
personally disagree with the author.
Think of some of the following:
1.How is the problem
defined? Your author reads
some literature or policy and gradually identifies a major problem with
your author decides to do some limited research on a particular issue
from the literature. What arguments are used to justify this focus?
there is weak or limited argument?
2.How is the argument
actually developed or
pursued? How was the literature, policyor group to research chosen (most recent? most
particularly interesting?) You will have to see if there are problems
in the discussion from this choice (have things moved on? are there
being representative even though the sample isn’t?)
problems discussed well? Are any problems skipped over?
4.What conclusions are
drawn? Are they based on
the actual study or was the author convinced (s)he/they was/were right
along? Do they bend over backwards to defend their work or cheerfully
NOTE that this sort of criticism is
nice and technical, and
nothing whatever to do with supposed biases on the part of the
Suggesting personal bias is usually a waste of time if you only have
article itself to go on and do not know more about the author.
often looks like a defence mechanisms on YOUR part, a way of showing
biases, and reacting against an argument you find annoying or
especially if you are implying that all female writers MUST be biased
men (or the other way around), for example (this is actually a common
in the work I read). No-one is denying your right to have your
You are entitled to have your suspicions – but rants just do not
(usually) score in
academic pieces of work and you are wasting your time including them.
In this type, you are comparing what
one author says with
what another one (or several) might say. This is worth doing whether
assignment asks you specifically to compare or not. This is your chance
that you can see the context, and that you have read some additional
beyond what the assignment requires. Of course, you must not go off the
so only a few brief comparisons are required (which is lucky if
you haven’t read very much). Where can youfind stuff to make these comparisons if you don’t
1.From other assignments –
say you’ve done one on
methods for another module, or one on policy, or one on history, or an
on definitions, or a write-up of a visit or placement, a field trip?
SURE you can’t write a sentence or two beginning
The methods used in this study have some problems and there
Policy development has actually developed in a number of
other ways as
The situation when the debate first began was rather
Although this study defines sport as organised commercial
there is another way to describe it...
In practice, there are often additional complications,
2.From lectures, seminars
and other presentations.
If you are sitting there you might as well take a few notes? Show you
mentioning a few external points ( I begin many of my lectures with
the first 3)...
The subject has moved on a little recently...
The underlying issues are these...
There is no easy answer to this question since there are now
An alternative way into this topic is...
Another aspect of the problem is ...
These points are easy to remember. Why don’t more
include them? Maybe they do not realise what being ‘critical’ means in
terms? Maybe they lack confidence? Maybe they take far too literal an
to an assignment and do not realise that the point is to demonstrate
skills like this?
Maybe you don’t need to bother? Are you happy with
grades you are getting? Do any of the comment on your work suggest you
do more ‘critical