Writing critically about theory or models

Critical reading about a theory or model

A theory is a system of ideas that tries to explain something. It is generally based on general principles independent of the phenomenon (thing) being explained. Theory also refers to a body of ideas or a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based eg a theory of education, or a theory of marketing.

A model is a graphical, mathematical (symbolic), physical, or verbal representation or simplified version of a concept, phenomenon, relationship, structure, system, or an aspect of the real world. It is used to help understand complex real-world phenomena. When reading about a theory or a model, find out:

1. What are the origins of the theory/ model:

  • a. What issue does it seek to explain?
  • b. Who developed the theory/model?
  • c. What are its origins? Did it develop out of another model or theory?
  • d. How it has changed/evolved over time?
  • e. What are the principles on which it is based?

2. What are the strengths of this theory or model for understanding the topic:

  • a. What new explanations/insights does it offer?
  • b. What contribution does it make to understanding of issue?

3. What are key criticisms of theory or model:

  • a. What are its limitations and/or gaps?

4. What other theory or model may be important in understanding this issue? Is this theory or model more, less or equally important in improving understanding of issue?


  • a. In what way is this theory or model relevant to my assignment?
  • b. What are the implications of this theory or model for practice?
  • c. How can it be applied usefully to enhance practice?

Click on this link for an example of critical discussion of theory