Critically Evaluating Sources and Writing a Critical Review
The Nature of the Critical Review
A review is an exercise in critical analytical reading (or observation) that generates a definite
personal response. A review informs readers about the nature and significance of a particular
book, film, or other work. But a review goes beyond summary to analyze and evaluate the work
in an objective manner. A review judges the relative success or failure of a given work with
specific references to the work and other research to support the judgement. Thus, a review
describes what the work contains, analyzes how the work tried to achieve its purpose, and
expresses the reviewer's reactions. In other words, reviewers answer not only the what? but also
the so what? question about a work.
Because of its brevity, the review can only focus on a few important ideas and aspects of the
work or what the reviewer considers to be the most significant parts of the work. The reviewer
must support with explanation and/or illustration all of the critical comments. The reviewer's
stance is to be objective and critical, not impressionistic and merely negative. A critic is not
someone who simply "criticizes," but a person who studies, analyzes, and then renders a rational
judgment of what he/she has seen. Criticism involves identifying not only the problems with an
author's work but also its valuable contributions and strengthens. A moderate tone will be very
important to make a review appear reliable and intelligent.
Preparing the Review
The first and most important step in writing a critical review is a careful reading or observation
of the work under study. The first reading or observation will provide the reviewer with a
preliminary impression of the author's thesis and the basic structure of the argument presented in
the work. The second reading or observation will enable the reviewer to analyze the work more
thoroughly through a consideration of some of the following questions:
• What is the author's thesis, hypothesis, or research question?
• What is the author's purpose?
• Who is the author's intended audience?
• Who is the author (qualifications)?
• What are the author's methods?
• What are the most important arguments or research results that the author offers to
support the thesis?
• What evidence does the author present to support the arguments?
• What are the author's underlying assumptions or biases?
• What are the author's conclusions (and any implications that he or she discussed)?
After several readings or observations of the work, the evaluation process can begin with a
consideration of some of the following questions as appropriate:
• Are the author's purpose and thesis clearly stated?
• Is the text appropriate for the intended