A critical reviewing example

Look at this example:

A study by Daniels (1998) found that group exercise was more effective than a control (n=21) in significantly reducing anxiety symptoms among 22 middle-aged men. The participants were randomly assigned to groups and effects were maintained at 6 month follow-up. Beck (2005) reported that anxiety symptoms decreased in a group of 42 middle-aged men and women in comparison to a control. No follow-up measures were taken.

What is the problem with this as a piece of critical writing?  Don't just describe - evaluate!

Avoid simple description; you must evaluate if you are to be critical (though some description will still be required to ‘set the scene’, otherwise the reader won’t understand the context).

Here are some further tips:

  • Write out explicit definitions of central technical terms. Often, doing this (perhaps in the introduction) will lead you into making criticisms - maybe of studies that used different definitions for no good reason, or that included subjects who don't fit the usual definition. It can also lead to criticising papers that failed to explain how they defined crucial terms. It can help you explain how you selected your papers.
  • Criticise the technique used. Criticise the method of each paper, and distinguish serious from marginal criticisms of the method.
  • Could or should techniques not used have been applied? Offer constructive suggestions about better methods or approaches. Discuss what you would do to improve research in the area. Consider whether techniques from other areas could be imported into this one. If you think one line of work has led to no clear conclusion, what would you recommend? Simply more detailed methods but the same kind of study, or a different kind of study? You might decide that, in a given area, the issues have been adequately resolved and there is no great need for further work. But giving your own view (and reasons for it) in addition to what published papers say, adds value.
  • Criticise for failure to look at other established approaches to the problem. In some areas, there may be whole approaches with different research methods that should be considered, yet many papers stay within one approach and fail even to mention the other. One standard approach to criticism is to comment on such one-sidedness.

Creative Commons Licence
PILOT - Writing a critical review by Steve Draper, Glasgow University, Dr Jane McKay, GCU modified by Marion Kelt, Glasgow Caledonian University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Based on a work at http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/resources/crs.html.