Whether you’re publishing a journal article review or completing one for a class, your critique should be fair, thorough, and constructive. Skim the article to get a feel for its organization, read it multiple times, and jot down notes and comments during the process. Evaluate the text section by section, and assess how well each component fulfills its purpose. Come up with a thesis that concisely summarizes your evaluation, compose your review, and include specific examples that back up your claims.
EditReading a Text Actively
- Familiarize yourself with your publication’s style guide. If you’re publishing your review, check the journal’s format and style guidelines first. Familiarizing yourself with the publication’s standards will give you an idea of how to evaluate the article and structure your review.
- Familiarizing yourself with format and style guidelines is especially important if you haven’t published with that journal in the past. For example, a journal might require you to recommend an article for publication, meet a certain word count, or provide revisions that the authors should make.
- If you’re reviewing a journal article for a school assignment, familiarize yourself the guidelines your instructor provided.
- Skim the article to get a feel for its organization. First, look through the journal article and try to trace its logic. Read the title, abstract, and headings to get a feel for how the article is organized. In this initial, quick skim, identify the question or problem that the article addresses.
- Give the article a quick, once-over read. After a quick skim, read the article from beginning to end to develop an overall impression. At this stage, identify the article’s thesis, or main argument, and highlight or underline where its stated in the introduction and conclusion.
- Reread the article and take notes. After reading it in full, scrutinize the article section by section. You can print out a copy and write notes and comments in the margins. If you prefer working with a digital copy, write your notes and comments in a word document.
- While giving the article a closer read, gauge whether and how well the article resolves its central problem. Ask yourself, “Is this investigation important, and does it uniquely contribute to its field?”
- At this stage, note any terminological inconsistencies, organizational problems, typos, and formatting issues.
EditEvaluating the Article
- Decide how well the abstract and introduction map out the article. Examine the abstract and introduction in detail. Ask yourself the following:
- How well does the abstract summarize the article, the problem it addresses, its techniques, results, and significance? For example, you might find that an abstract describes a pharmaceutical study’s topic and skips to results without discussing the experiment’s methods with much detail.
- Does the introduction map out the article’s structure? Does it clearly lay out the groundwork? A good introduction gives you a clear idea of what to expect in the coming sections. It might state the problem and hypothesis, briefly describe the investigation’s methods, then state whether the experiment proved or disproved the hypothesis.
- Evaluate the article’s references and literature review. Most journal articles include a review of existing literature early on and, throughout, cite previous scholarly work. Determine if the sources it references are authoritative, how well its literature review summarizes sources, and whether the sources situate the article in a field of research or simply drop well-known names.
- If necessary, spend some time perusing copies of the article’s sources so you can better understand the topic’s existing literature.
- A good literature review will say something like, “Smith and Jones, in their authoritative 2015 study, demonstrated that adult men and women responded favorably to the treatment. However, no research on the topic has examined the technique’s effects and safety in children and adolescents, which is what we sought to explore in our current work.”
- Examine the methods. Ask yourself, “Are these methods an appropriate, reasonable means of solving the problem?” Imagine other possible ways of setting up an experiment or structuring an investigation, and note any improvements the authors could have made.
- For example, you might observe that subjects in medical study didn’t accurately represent a diverse population.
- Assess how the article presents data and results. Decide whether tables, diagrams, legends, and other visual aids effectively organize information. Do the results and discussion sections clearly summarize and interpret the data? Are tables and figures purposeful or redundant?
- For example, you might find that tables list too much undigested data that the authors don’t adequately summarize within the text.
- Evaluate non-scientific evidence and analyses. For non-scientific articles, decide how well the article presents the evidence that supports its argument. Is the evidence relevant, and does the article convincingly analyze and interpret the evidence?
- For example, if you’re reviewing an art history article, decide whether it analyzes an artwork reasonably or simply leaps to conclusions. A reasonable analysis might argue, “The artist was a member of Rembrandt’s workshop, which is evident in the painting’s dramatic light and sensual texture.”
- Assess the writing style. Even if it’s meant for a specialized audience, an article’s writing style should be clear, concise, and correct. Evaluate style by asking yourself the following:
- Is the language clear and unambiguous, or does excessive jargon interfere with its ability to make an argument?
- Are there places that are too wordy? Can any ideas be stated in a simpler way?
- Are grammar, punctuation, and terminology correct?
EditWriting Your Review
- Outline your review. Look over the notes you took in your section-by-section evaluation. Come up with a thesis, then outline how you intend to support your thesis in the body of your review. Include specific examples that reference the strengths and weaknesses that you noted in your evaluation.
- Your thesis and evidence should be constructive and thoughtful. Point out both strengths and weaknesses, and propose alternative solutions instead of focusing only on weaknesses.
- A good, constructive thesis would be, “The article demonstrates that the drug works better than a placebo in specific demographics, but future research that includes a more diverse subject sampling is necessary.”
- Write your review’s first draft. After forming a thesis and making an outline, you’re ready to start composing your review. While the structure will depend on your publication’s guidelines, you can typically follow these general guidelines:
- The introduction summarizes the article and states your thesis.
- The body provides specific examples from the text that support your thesis.
- The conclusion summarizes your review, restates your thesis, and offers suggestion for future research.
- Revise your draft before submitting it. After writing your first draft, check for typos and make sure your grammar and punctuation are correct. Try to read your work as if you were someone else. Is your critique fair and balanced, and do the examples you included support your argument?
- Make sure your writing is clear, concise, and logical. If you mention that an article is too verbose, your own writing shouldn’t be full of unnecessarily complicated terms and sentences.
- If possible, have someone familiar with the topic read your draft and offer feedback.