How to critique literature

How to critique literature

How to Critique a Journal Article

Most scholars and practitioners are passionate about learning how to critique a journal article. Journal article critique is a formal evaluation of a journal article or any type of literary or scientific content. As a careful, complete examination of a study, journal article critique judges the strengths, weaknesses, logical links, meanings and significance of the content presented in an article. The core aim of performing a journal article critique is to show whether or not the arguments and facts that the author provided are reasonable to support their main points. A writer of a journal article critique is expected to identify a scientific article and subject it to a critical discussion based on their point of view, but following a set of conventional guidelines.

Features of a Good Article Critique

When doing a journal article, you are expected to do the following for each section of a research article:

  • Explain what was done right with evidence from the journal article being critiqued.
  • Explain what was not done right, possible reasons, and what ought to have been done.
  • Explain what you think could have been done or what you could do to make it better.
  • Given a brief recommendation for future researchers.

What this means is that you must first of all know exactly the nature of structure and content that you expect from a journal article. Without this knowledge, it will be difficult to critique a journal article and write a quality piece of writing from it. Having done these, your journal article critique will reflect the following characteristics.

i). It should have a unique opinion discussion

Article critique does not represent a simple summary of an article. Most students make a mistake of writing a mere summary of the research article after they read it. It is worth noting that journal articles already have summaries and that is not what readers actually want, but a unique opinion and discussion is what counts as a quality journal article critique.

ii). Evidence

As a writer, you are not expected to provide just your impressions of the article, but also evidence that sets expressions as well. Of course you are not asked to write a new content, but as you write your viewpoint of it, it is critical to support them with evidence.

iii). Identification of the Main Idea

Ensure that you identify the main idea of the article. Each journal article is published to transmit a specific idea that gives it a purpose. Furthermore, remember to clarify the background and significance.

iv). Dual Direction

Do not focus only on the issues that a given article has raised, but also give attention to the important issues that it has left out. There could some content or explanations that you could expect a journal article to present, but that was left out. Explain it and tell the difference it could have caused.

Areas of Journal Article Critique

Article critique fundamentally focuses on evaluating all the sections of a an article to determine its consistency with the scientific research and writing standards. Thus, each section of an article is subjected to critique as follows:


  • Check the extent to which the title of the article interest and allow you to have an immediate idea of the content of the research.
  • Identify the authors of the research article and/or parties that conducted the research is published.
  • Identify and apprise the journal in which the article the article is published.
  • Evaluate the introduction in terms of how it describes the purpose and background of the study.
  • Explain if the research question is consistent with the purpose of the study.
  • Recognize the potential effect of the research article to your current practice.

Literature Review

  • Find out if the sources of literature review in the article are current (i.e published within the last 5-10 years).
  • Evaluate the theories used in relation to relevance to the independent and dependent variables. Ask yourself if the theories explain the phenomenon under investigation.
  • Check whether if the literature reviewed is relevant to the research (some content of the literature may be pulled randomly and may not reflect the variables of the study.


  • Identify and explain the research design that enabled the creation of a journal article being critiqued.
  • Check the research method that was adopted and evaluate its appropriateness to the research question and context. For example, questionnaires may not be appropriate among illiterate populations.
  • Evaluate the method of sampling and explain if it is appropriate to the topic and population characteristics.
  • Check the possibility of biases in the sample. If biased, explain the reason and what could be done to prevent biases from occurring.
  • Appraise the size of the sample in relation to the population and desired significance levels.
  • Identify and critique the tools that were used to collect data, procedures through which data was collected, and their validity, reliability and accuracy.
  • Find out if the researchers got ethical approval to conduct the study and if not, why.
  • Overall, explain if the methods of research have been explained adequately.

Results and Findings

  • Check how data was analyzed.
  • Briefly explain the main findings of the research.
  • Evaluate the way in which results are displayed (Is it done in a clear and understandable manner?)
  • Check if the authors have discussed the results in relation to the original problem they identified in the introduction section.
  • Find out if the findings have been related to the literature review and consistencies/inconsistencies identified and explained. (Have the authors cited only the pertinent literature?)


  • Check if the conclusion captures all aspects of the study from introduction to the end.
  • Analyze the nature of conclusions presented and if they answer the research question.
  • Analyze and explain the main strengths and weaknesses of the study.
  • Identify what you think is the main limitations of the study and if they were identified by the authors.
  • Check if the author(s) provided suggestions for future research.


  • Go through the references and check if they consistently adhere to a given referencing style.

From the above discussion, it is evident that journal article critique is an involving activity that require active reading, developing an outline, questioning authors’ main points, identifying contradictions, writing down the content of the critique, and revising it to make it perfect. You can now practice by downloading a few articles and trying to critique them. This will give you a good opportunity to learn from experience and perfect your article critique skills.

At some stage in the writing process, most writers want feedback on their work. But not all kinds of feedback are productive.

Here are some tips on how to organize a helpful critique and how to get the most out of feedback on your work.

How to Write a Critique: The Critiquer’s Role

As a critiquer, your job is to understand the writer’s goals and help the writer achieve them.

Every writer has a different voice and approach. It is sometimes tempting to change someone else’s piece to make it more like something YOU would have written. Instead, help the writer produce the best possible version of what THAT WRITER is trying to write. Consider the piece on its own terms and help it fulfill its potential.

How to Write a Critique: Before the Critique

Before preparing a critique, we suggest reading the piece several times, taking notes on each reading. Each reading will give you different insights that can benefit the author.

  1. First, read the piece through from beginning to end, simulating the experience of an ordinary reader. Take notes on your first impressions before reading the piece again. This first step is important because your perspective will change during a second reading. Your interpretation of the piece’s beginning will be colored by your knowledge of the end.
  2. Read the piece at least once more and take notes again. Subsequent readings will help you develop a global vision of the work’s structure and notice additional details.

With each reading, you will have a better perspective on the piece’s structure, but you will be in a worse position to judge the unfolding of information and to identify points of confusion.

How to Write a Critique: Suggested Critique Format

Below is a format that we have found to work well for giving critiques.

  1. First, summarize and interpret. At this first stage, you are not judging the piece or offering suggestions. You are just telling the author what you think it is about, and what you think it is trying to do. This is important because it tells the author how well he or she has succeeded in communicating.It also tells the author if you have understood the piece correctly. If so, the author will take your feedback more seriously. If not, the author knows that any suggestions that follow may actually be based on a misunderstanding of the piece. The author may therefore need to discount these suggestions and work instead on more successfully communicating his or her vision.
  2. Second, say what you think is working well. Positive feedback can be as useful as criticism. Point out the best parts of the piece and the strengths of the author’s writing. This can help the author write more “best parts” in the future and develop his or her individual talent.Starting with positive feedback also makes it easier for the author to listen to criticism later without becoming defensive or discouraged.
  3. Third, give constructive criticism. Make sure that criticism is respectful and delivered in a form that allows the author to make specific improvements.Authors tend to have high emotional stakes in their work, and may at some level confuse criticism of a story or a poem for criticism of their talent or vision. It is therefore especially important to make your comments as specific as possible and keep them clearly focused on the piece, rather than the author. Give examples from the piece whenever possible to show your points.

How to Write a Critique: Do’s and Don’ts

  • Read the piece several times ahead of time
  • Try to experience the piece as an “ordinary reader” before you consider it as an author or editor
  • Try to understand the author’s goals
  • Be specific in your feedback and provide relevant examples
  • Impose your own aesthetics, tastes, or world view
  • Rewrite the story the way yOU would have written it
  • Discourage the author
  • Offer criticisms that are too general to help the author make specific improvements

How to Write a Critique: The Author’s Role

We suggest that the author try not to talk at all during an oral critique except to ask clarifying questions at the end (if the author didn’t hear or understand something, he or she can ask the critiquer to repeat or expand on it).

There is a natural tendency for authors to try to explain their work, particularly if they see that the critiquer has not understood it the way they intended. But the author’s responses can influence the direction of the critique. The critiquer can end up commenting on the author’s explanation of the work, rather than what the author has actually written. The critique can even turn into a debate.

How to Write a Critique: Advice on Receiving a Critique

If you’re on the receiving end of a critique, focus on listening and understanding the feedback you receive. You don’t have to agree with it. You won’t have to follow any of the suggestions you’re given.

In fact, some of the suggestions you get are likely to be not-so-useful. You will have to sort them out from the useful ones and make your own decisions. But save this sorting-out for later. Otherwise, the sorting-out process will interfere with your ability to listen. And you’ll probably do a better job of sorting out the good advice from the bad if you take some time first to digest everything.

Take careful notes on ALL the feedback and ask questions if there’s something you don’t understand. Don’t argue with the critiquer or defend your piece. Don’t even try to explain it.

After the critique, we suggest taking a break before you try to sort the feedback out. Getting a critique can be hard. Relax a little afterwards. Go out with some friends; watch TV; get a good night’s sleep. It will improve your perspective.

This break might last twenty-four hours or a couple of weeks — however long you need to get some emotional distance on the process. Then take a fresh look at what you’ve written. Reread your notes on the critique.

Which suggestions do you agree with? Which ones do you want to ignore? If you’re not sure about a suggestion, do some experimental rewriting. Try it out. There’s no risk. If you don’t like the result of the revision, you can always trash it and go back to the original version.

Remember: you’re the author. You’re the one in charge here.

How to Write a Critique: Next Steps

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