An example of good writing

A study by Daniels (2002) found that group exercise was more effective than a control (n=24) in significantly reducing anxiety symptoms among 28 middle-aged men. The participants were randomly assigned to groups and effects were maintained at 6 month follow-up. A strength of Daniel’s study was the randomisation of participants to groups and the incorporation of a follow-up anxiety measure. However, the study is limited due to the relatively small sample size and anxiety measure which has been shown to have poor reliability (ref).

Why?

The lowest approach to a critical review just summarises the contents of some papers. A better approach also collects and presents criticisms, but is still essentially reacting to the papers one by one and bit by bit. But what is best is when the critical review as a whole has a clear structure invented by the student, not just directly reflecting the papers being reviewed.

This cannot be planned in advance. One student decided to review the literature on personality and binge drinking, and noticed on his first pass through the papers that most studies had only reported on one or two of the main personality dimensions. This became his chief criticism and also offered a structure for his whole review: beginning with a summary of personality theory, and discussing the studies under each of the 5 personality dimensions in turn. Another concerned CBT therapies for certain mental illnesses. This student began with an introduction about the relevant general issues of clinical study methods, including references to papers on what is desirable. He then applied those standards to the particular papers he was reviewing: again imposing a pre-selected set of standards which he had independently justified and laid out in advance.

This kind of approach usually cannot be decided on until after reading the set of papers through for the first time, making notes of points, and eventually coming to a decision about the most important overall issue. By imposing their own standards and structure, these students demonstrated they were not just taking the literature uncritically; and this gave their whole critical reviews a coherence that the students, not the papers, had come up with.

Creative Commons Licence
SMILE - 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.