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Writing: Article Review

 

A common assignment to generate discussion is to locate an article on a particular topic and review it.  You're in the library already, so hopefully you've located an article or at least have plans to do so :-).  

An article review for this purpose is written for an audience who is knowledgable in the field and is interested not only in the content of the article, but also in your critical assessment of the ideas and argument that has been put forth by the author.

Getting the Gist of the Author's Message

Your job, when writing an article review, is to understand the essence of the material in the article and to form an opinion on what you find.

Most articles follow a fairly similar structure:

  • An introduction that sets the stage and provides a brief review of the literature,
  • A thesis statement or claim about what the article is trying to prove,
  • The argument and supporting evidence, and
  • Conclusions.

A good trick is to read the introduction (especially if there's a summary or abstract!), glance at the body's subheadings, and skip ahead to the conclusions.  This should give you a good feel for the author's objective in writing the article.

Hunt for Information

Once you've got the gist of the article, it's time to dig in.  First take a close look at the requirements of the assignment.  Will the review be posted to a discussion board for discussion amongst classmates?  Will you be preparing a longer critique submitted as an essay?  Has the instructor given you any talking points, such as to look critically at what application the article might have in a particular situation or for your workplace?

What this will tell you is how much information you can reasonably cover in your review.  The questions below will provide you with a focus to hunt for information.  How much of it you use depends upon what the instructor requires.  

  • Objectives: what does the article set out to do?

  • Theory: is there an explicit theoretical framework? If not, are there important theoretical assumptions?

  • Concepts: what are the central concepts? Are they clearly defined?

  • Argument: what is the central argument? Are there specific hypotheses?

  • Method: what methods are employed to test these?  Does the author clearly outline his methodology, especially if reporting on an experiment or study?

  • Evidence: is evidence provided? How adequate is it?

  • Results:  Does the author discuss the results?

  • Literature: how does the work fit into the wider literature?

  • Contribution: how well does the work advance our knowledge of the subject?  Is the article lacking information or argumentation that you expected to find?

Pick a Focus

Now let's write.  The following organizational approach will help you to craft a solid review:

  • Start  by identifying the article (author, title of article, title of journal, year of publication, and other details that seem important) and call out the   major aspects of the article you will be discussing.
  • Give a brief summary of the range, contents and argument of the article.  If your review is not meant to be very long, keep it to the main themes.  A good guideline is to limit this section to no more than a third of the total review.  
  • Launch a critical discussion of 2-3 key issues raised in the article. This section is the core of your review.
    • First, make clear the author's own argument before you criticize and evaluate it.
    • It may help to think in terms of strengths and weaknesses as you write this section of the review.
    • Keep your review focused; stick to 2-3 key items that you evaluated.
    • Remember that you must support your criticisms with evidence from the text or from other writings. Direct quotes should be used sparingly; instead, paraphrase.  
    • Use strong "reporting" verbs as you write:  "The author describes ..."  "Jackson reports that ..."  "Usmani argues that ..."
    • It is also important to be fair and reasonable.  If you feel there is a gap in the author's treatment of the subject, say so -- but if the author never intended to tackle a particular topic in the article, don't give him/her grief if that was not his purpose.  
  • Conclude with a final evaluation of the overall contribution that the article has made to your understanding of the topic (and maybe its importance to the development of knowledge in this particular area or discipline, setting it in the context of other writings in the field).

Important:   Make sure to use appropriate in-text references and to include a bibliography with  a citation for the article that you reviewed, plus any other items you referred to within your review.