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Lecture 4

COUN 400 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: The Critical Review

Course Code
COUN 400

of 4
Purpose of a Critical Review
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 university, 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
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 the article?
2. Locate the topic sentences and highlight the main
points as you read.
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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 it 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
3. Use reporting verbs and phrases (e.g.; The author
describes…, Smith argues that …).
4. If you include unique or specialist phrases from the
text, use quotation marks.
Structure of a Critical Review
- Critical reviews, both short (one page) and long (four
pages), usually have a similar structure.
- Headings are usually optional for longer reviews and can
be helpful for the reader.
- Introduction
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.
- Summary
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 critical review.
- Critique
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The critique should be a balanced discussion and evaluation
of the strengths, weakness 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:
1. Most important to least important conclusions you make
about the text.
2. If your critique is more positive than negative, then
present the negative points first and the positive
3. If your critique is more negative than positive, then
present the positive points first and the negative
4. If there are both strengths and weakness 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.
5. 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
6. 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.
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