Journal Article: A Comparison of European and African-Based Psychologies and Their Implications for African American College Student Development
Author: Vanessa D. Johnson
Journal of Black Studies
Vol. 33, No. 6 (Jul., 2003), pp.817-829
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Reference: Critical Race Perspectives on Theory in Student Affairs
Author: Lori D. Patton, Marylu McEwen, Laura Rendon, Mary F. Howard-Hamilton
Last Reference: anything from Helms, J.E.
Specifications: Purpose of this Critical Review Assignment 4 to 5 pages
The critical review is a writing task that asks you to summarize and evaluate a text. The critical
review can be of a book, a chapter, or a journal article. Writing the critical review usually
requires you to read the selected text in detail and to also read other related texts so that you
can present a fair and reasonable evaluation of the selected text.
What is meant by critical?
At the graduate level, to be critical does not mean to criticize in a negative manner. Rather it
requires you to question the information and opinions in a text and present your evaluation or
judgment of the text. To do this well, you should attempt to understand the topic from
different perspectives (i.e. read related texts) and in relation to the theories, approaches and
frameworks in your course.
What is meant by evaluation or judgment?
Here you decide the strengths and weaknesses of a text. This is usually based on specific
criteria. Evaluating requires an understanding of not just the content of the text, but also an
understanding of a text’s purpose, the intended audience, and why it is structured the way it is.
What is meant by analysis?
Analyzing requires separating the content and concepts of a text into their main components
and then understanding how these interrelate, connect and possibly influence each other.
Structure of a Critical Review
Critical reviews, both brief (one-two pages) and long (three-four pages), usually have a similar
structure. Check your assignment instructions for formatting and structural specifications.
Headings are usually optional for longer reviews and can be helpful for the reader.
The length of an introduction is usually one paragraph for a journal article review and two or
three paragraphs for a longer book review. Include a few opening sentences that announce the
author(s) and the title, and briefly explain the topic of the text. Present the aim of the text and
summarize the main finding or key argument. Conclude the introduction with a brief statement
of your evaluation of the text. This can be a positive or negative evaluation or, as is usually the
case, a mixed response.
Present a summary of the key points along with a limited number of examples. You can also
briefly explain the author’s purpose/intentions throughout the text and you may briefly
describe how the text is organized. The summary should only make up about a third of the
The critique should be a balanced discussion and evaluation of the strengths, weaknesses, and
notable features of the text. Remember to base your discussion on specific criteria. Good
reviews also include other sources to support your evaluation (remember to reference). You
can choose how to sequence your critique. Here are some examples to get you started:
· Most important to least important conclusions you make about the text.
· If your critique is more positive than negative, then present the negative points
first and the positive last.
· If your critique is more negative than positive, then present the positive points
first and the negative last.
· If there are both strengths and weaknesses for each criterion you use, you need
to decide overall what your judgment is. For example, you may want to
comment on a key idea in the text and have both positive and negative
comments. You could begin by stating what is good about the idea and then
concede and explain how it is limited in some way. While this example shows a
mixed evaluation, overall you are probably being more negative than positive.
· In long reviews, you can address each criterion you choose in a paragraph,
including both negative and positive points. For very short critical reviews (one
page or less) where your comments will be briefer, include a paragraph of
positive aspects and another of negative.
· You can also include recommendations for how the text can be improved in
terms of ideas, research approach; theories or frameworks used can also be
included in the critique section.
This is usually a very short paragraph.
· Restate your overall opinion of the text.
· Briefly present recommendations.
· If necessary some further qualification or explanation of your judgment can be
included. This can help your critique sound fair and reasonable.
If you have used other sources in you review you should also include a list of references at the
end of the review.
Summarizing and paraphrasing for the critical review
Summarizing and paraphrasing are essential skills for academic writing and in particular, the
critical review. To summarize means to reduce a text to its main points and its most important
ideas. The length of your summary for a critical review should only be about one quarter to one
third of the whole critical review. The best way to summarize is to:
1. Scan the text. Look for information that can be deduced from the introduction,
conclusion, and the title and headings. What do these tell you about the main points of
2. Locate the topic sentences and highlight the main points as you read.
3. Reread the text and make separate notes of the main points. Examples and evidence do
not need to be included at this stage. Usually they are used selectively in your critique.
Paraphrasing means putting the text into your own words. Paraphrasing offers an alternative to
using direct quotations in your summary (and the critique) and can be an efficient way to
integrate your summary notes. The best way to paraphrase is to:
1. Review your summary notes
2. Rewrite them in your own words and in complete sentences
3. Use reporting verbs and phrases (e.g. The author describes…, Smith argues …).
4. If you include unique or specialist phrases from the text, use quotation marks.
Some General Criteria for Evaluating Texts
The following list of criteria and focus questions may be useful for reading the text and for
preparing the critical review. Remember to check your assignment instructions for more
specific criteria and focus questions that should form the basis of your review. The length of the
review/ assignment will determine how many criteria you will address in your critique.
Criteria Possible focus questions
Significance and contribution to
What is the author’s aim?
To what extent has this aim been achieved?
What does this text add to the body of knowledge? (This
could be in terms of theory, data and/or practical
What relationship does it bear to other works in the field?
What is missing/not stated?
Is this a problem?
Methodology or approach (This
usually applies to more formal,
research- based texts)
What approach was used for the research? (e.g.,
quantitative or qualitative, analysis/review of theory or
current practice, comparative, case study
How objective/biased is the approach?
Are the results valid and reliable?
What analytical framework is used to discuss the results?
Argument and use of evidence Is there a clear problem, statement or hypothesis?
What claims are made?
Is the argument consistent?
What kinds of evidence does the text rely on?
How valid and reliable is the evidence?
How effective is the evidence in supporting the argument?
What conclusions are drawn?
Are these conclusions justified?
Writing style and text structure Does the writing style suit the intended audience? (e.g.,
expert/non-expert, academic/non- academic)
What is the organizing principle of the text? Could it be
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