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Writing a Critical Review

The advice in this brochure is a general guide only. We strongly recommend that you also follow your assignment
instructions and seek clarification from your lecturer/tutor if needed.
Purpose of a critical review
The critical review is a writing task that asks you to summarise 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
What is meant by critical?
At university, to be critical does not mean to criticise in a negative manner. Rather it requires you to question the
information and opinions in a text and present your evaluation or judgement 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 judgement?
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 texts purpose, the
intended audience and why it is structured the way it is.
What is meant by analysis?
Analysing 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 short (one page) and long (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 summarise 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
authors purpose/intentions throughout the text and you may briefly describe how the text is organised. The
summary should only make up about a third of the critical review.
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:
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 weakness for each criterion you use, you need to decide overall what your
judgement 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 criteria 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 judgement 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.

Summarising and Paraphrasing for the Critical Review
Summarising and paraphrasing are essential skills for academic writing and in particular, the critical review. To
summarise 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
summarise 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.
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 sentences
3. Use reporting verbs and phrases (eg; The author describes, Smith argues that ).
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 the field
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 application)
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? (eg; quantitative or qualitative,
analysis/review of theory or current practice, comparative, case study, personal
reflection etc...)
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? (eg; expert/non-expert,
What is the organising principle of the text? Could it be better organised?
See next: Sample extract
Sample Extracts
Here is a sample extract from a critical review of an article. Only the introduction and conclusion are included. We
thank Suwandi Tijia for allowing us to use his critical review in this resource.
[1] A Critical Review of Goodwin et al, 2000, 'Decision making in Singapore and Australia: the influence of culture
on accountants ethical decisions', Accounting Research Journal, vol.13, no. 2, pp 22-36.
[2] Using Hofstedes (1980, 1983 and 1991) and Hofstede and Bonds (1988) five cultural dimensions, Goodwin
et al (2000) conducted [3] a study on the influence of culture on ethical decision making between two groups of
accountants from Australia and Singapore.[4] This research aimed to provide further evidence on the effect of
cultural differences since results from previous research have been equivocal. [5] The study reveals that
accountants from the two countries responded differently to ethical dilemmas in particular when the responses
were measured using two of the five cultural dimensions. The result agreed with the prediction since considerable
differences existed between these two dimensions in Australians and Singaporeans (Hofstede 1980,
1991). [6] However the results of the other dimensions provided less clear relationships as the two cultural
groups differed only slightly on the dimensions. [7]To the extent that this research is exploratory, results of this
study provide insights into the importance of recognising cultural differences for firms and companies that operate
in international settings. However several limitations must be considered in interpreting the study findings.
[8] In summary, it has to be admitted that the current study is [9] still far from being conclusive. [10]Further
studies must be undertaken, better measures must be developed, and larger samples must be used to improve
our understanding concerning the exact relationship between culture and decision making.[11] Despite some
deficiencies in methodology,[12] to the extent that this research is exploratory i.e. trying to investigate an
emerging issue, the study has provided some insights to account for culture in developing ethical standards
across national borders.
[1] Title and bibliographic details of the text
[2] Introduction
[3] Reporting verbs
[4] Presents the aim/purpose of the article and Key findings
[5] Sentence themes focus on the text
[6] Transition signals provide structure and coherence
[7] Reviewer s judgement
[8] Conclusion summarises reviewers judgement
[9] Modality used to express certainty and limit overgeneralising
[10] Offers recommendations
[11] Concessive clauses assist in expressing a mixed response
[12] Qualifies reviewers judgement

Language features of the critical review
1. Reporting verbs and phrases
These are used to tell the reader what the author thinks or does in their text.
Komisar begins his article claiming that the new teaching machines represent a new kind of encounter.1
2. Modality
Modal verbs and other expressions are used to express degrees of certainty and probability (from high to low).
Writers use modality to present ideas as opinions rather than facts.
The word theory has an honorific status. The same could probably be said for practice. 1
3. Conceding (Concessive clauses)
Here an adverbial clause can be used to describe a circumstance that is in contrast or unfavourable to another
circumstance. In academic writing, concessive clauses are one way (there are others!) to acknowledge the
strength/ validity of an idea before presenting an alternate view. This does not weaken your critique; rather it can
show balance and fairness in your analysis.
Though by no means the first empiricist among the Greek philosophers, Aristotle stood out among his
contemporaries for the meticulous care with which he worked. 2
(Adapted from:
1 Hyman R (Ed) 1971, Contemporary thought on teaching, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey.
2 Dunbar R 1995, The trouble with science, Faber & Faber, London.)

Welcome to the Plagiarism and Academic Integrity website. This site will function as a central resource and hub
for staff and students at The University of New South Wales. From the outset UNSW has taken an educative
rather than a punitive approach to issues of plagiarism. This site is integral to The Learning Centre and the
UNSW's educative commitment.

If you are a student you can use this collection of resources (worked examples, activities and links) to improve
your all-round academic literacy and, consequently, reduce the possibilities for plagiarism.
If you are a member of staff you will be able to use this to site to keep yourself abreast of some of the issues that
surround plagiarism and academic integrity.
Three steps to
avoiding plagiarism
The following pages aim to address three issues that often result in plagiarism: unfamiliarity with the concept of
plagiarism; knowing how it occurs, and developing the necessary academic skills to avoid plagiarism.
Step 1: Know what plagiarism is
Plagiarism is taking the ideas or words of others and passing them off as your own. Plagiarism is a type of
intellectual theft.
Step 2: Know how plagiarism happens
Most plagiarism is the result of underdeveloped academic skills. We have listed the common types of plagiarism.
Step 3: Develop effective academic skills
Most students who plagiarise do so unintentionally, usually because they don't have the skills to avoid over-
reliance on the work of others or because they aren't sure what constitutes plagiarism. If they develop their
academic skills, the chances of plagiarism is greatly reduced.
In this guide we have also provided steps to avoiding plagiarism including how to be organised, so you can develop
good academic practice, and a list of other resources and links so you can learn more.

What is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism at UNSW is using the words or ideas of others and passing them off as your own.
Plagiarism can take many forms, from deliberate cheating to accidentally copying from a source without
acknowledgement. Consequently, whenever you use the words or ideas of another person in your work, you
must acknowledge where they came from.
Why do I need to know about it?
One of the contradictions of academic writing is that while you are expected to research and refer to experts and
authorities, you are also expected to produce original work. This is based on the assumption that you are very
clear about your own ideas and about how others have influenced your understanding.
It is important to recognise that all scholarship involves understanding, researching and expanding on the work of
others to some degree. Undergraduates, for instance, may base their original contribution on selecting, ordering,
summarising and interpreting what others have said to support their own academic argument. Therefore, it is
important to learn how to reference well; that is, how to consciously and clearly acknowledge what your debts are
in your work. Then your own contribution can be clearly identified and appreciated.
As part of an academic community, and thereby benefiting from your membership, you are expected to abide by
its ethical practices. It is partly this tradition of acknowledgement of sources, in the form of in-text citation or foot
or end-notes, that separates academic writing from other forms of knowledge: it is part of the strength of
academic research.
Why is it wrong to plagiarise?
Plagiarism is unethical for three reasons.
Firstly, it is unethical because it is a form of theft. By taking the ideas and words of others and pretending they
are your own, you are stealing someone elses intellectual property.
Secondly, it is unethical because the plagiariser subsequently benefits from this theft.
Thirdly, a degree is evidence of its holders abilities and knowledge. If a student gains employment on the
basis of a qualification they have not earned, they may be a risk to others.
No doubt some students do cheat. They deliberately take the results of other peoples hard work, use it to gain
credit for themselves, and learn little or nothing in the process. But most cases of plagiarism are accidental,
and could be avoided if students become more conscious of their own writing and research practices. Most
students who plagiarise do so unintentionally, usually because they don't have the skills to avoid over-reliance
on the work of others or because they aren't sure what constitutes plagiarism. The best way to avoid
plagiarism is to:
know what it is
develop the skills to write well and consequently avoid doing it.
Both intentional AND unintentional plagiarism are violations of UNSW regulations.

Common Forms of Plagiarism
Presenting work as your own when it has been produced in whole or part in collusion with other people. It
should not be confused with academic collaboration.
Collusion includes:
students providing their work to another student for the purpose of them plagiarising,
paying another person to perform an academic task and passing it off as your own work
stealing or acquiring another persons academic work and copying it
offering to complete another persons work or seeking payment for completing academic work.
Using the same words as the original text without acknowledgingthe source or without using quotation marks
is plagiarism. More
Putting someone else's ideas into your own words and not acknowledging the source of the ideas. More
This includes copying materials, ideas or concepts from a book, article, report or other written document,
presentation, composition, artwork, design, drawing, circuitry, computer program or software, website, internet,
other electronic resource, or another person's assignment, without appropriate acknowledgement.
Inappropriate paraphrasing skills, resulting in copying the written expression of someone else without
Using the exact words of someone else, with proper acknowledgement, but without quotation marks.More
Changing a few words and phrases while mostly retaining the original structure and/or progression of ideas of
the original, and information without acknowledgement. More
This also applies in presentations where someone paraphrases anothers ideas or words without credit.
Relying too much on other peoples material
Relying too much on other people's material; that is, repeated use of long quotations (even with quotation
marks and with proper acknowledgement). More
Using your own ideas, but with heavy reliance on phrases and sentences from someone else without
acknowledgement. More
Piecing together quotes and paraphrases into a new whole, without appropriate referencing.
Inappropriate citation
Citing sources which have not been read, without acknowledging the 'secondary' source from which
knowledge of them has been obtained.
'Padding' reference lists with sources that have not been read or cited within assignments.
Duplicating previously submitted work that you have handed in for another course, in part or in whole.
Re-using parts of, or all of, a body of work that has already been submitted for assessment without proper

How Does Plagiarism Happen?
Plagiarism happens for a number of reasonsone is because some students decide consciously to gain credit
for the work of others. However, most incidents of plagiarism are the product not of deliberate cheating, but of
underdeveloped academic skills.
Plagiarism in these cases is a consequence of students' difficulties with the cluster of skills and states of mind
needed to be successful in a tertiary learning environment. If you develop these skills your chances of being
accused of plagiarism will be greatly reduced.
Problem Solution
Intellectual insecurity: the 'use your own words' paradox
Find your own voice
Poor time management
Learn to use your time effectively
Lack of a clear argument: not answering the question
Develop a clear argument
Lack of critical/ analytical skills
Asking questions and developing answers
Inadequate research
Read and research more widely
Poor note-taking
Develop note-taking systems
Poor referencing skills
Learn how to acknowledge your sources
Underdeveloped writing skills
Work to improve your writing
Don't do it!

The Path to Avoiding Plagiarising
The first step on this path is to stop and reflect on your thinking about the issue or problem you are
investigating. Your ideas may not be very clear or very well informed at this stage, but thinking about them
and writing them down gives you a place to start recognising what you need to know next.
See the Learning Centres guide to Reflective writing
Reading then becomes the way you deepen your understanding. It is also when you start to document how all
these other ideas help you identify how and why you think the way you do. Selecting which ideas you will use
in your assignment and organising your citations is the beginning of the referencing process. Your note
making practice makes this possible. Without it you have no map of the path of your developing
See the Learning Centres guides to Effective reading and Effective notemaking from written text
The skills of summarising and paraphrasing need to be exercised at this stage. If you cut and paste directly from
your readings, you are plagiarising. Time can get away from you and you end up not thinking about your
writing and just popping the words of others into your assignment. Summarising and paraphrasing take more
time, but they are well worth the work and are excellent academic practices.
See the Learning Centre guides to Paraphrasing, summarising and quoting and Introducing quotations and
Writing takes practice and often your first draft is submitted with disastrous results. Your first attempt will
usually be disorganised and will need to be redrafted, but as you become more practiced and better informed
you will begin to develop your own writing style, your own voice.
Another step on this path to good academic practice is the discovery of the way people talk, think and
communicate in the subjects you are studying. It is similar to working in another country. You need to learn the
variations of the language, the different ways of writing and speaking about that particular world. It is for this
reason that different values are given to academic ideas in different subjects, and that different skills are used
to emphasise those values. You will learn about this culture from your lecturers and tutors, from your readings
and also by developing your academic practices, one of which is referencing.
Importantly, time management will be a crucial part of your academic journey to avoid plagiarising. Reading
well, note making, summarising and paraphrasing, writing, learning the culture of your discipline as well as
becoming familiar with referencing conventions, all take time. It is definitely worth the effort to plan your time
See the Learning Centres guide to Time management
What you can do to develop good academic practice
What you need to know next is...
How many different conventions and styles do you need to use in my studies? What are they?
What do these citation styles look like?
Where can you find models of good academic practice in your course?
Does your course have a discipline-specific plagiarism policy? (If so, where is it and what are the details?)
Are you required to reference lecture, tutorial or class handout materials?
What you need to do is...
Leave yourself enough time to process your assignments.
Make sure you understand what is asked of you in assignment tasks.
Continually write about my thinking.
Read widely to inform your thinking.
Accurately record your sources of information when you are making notes (including page numbers)
Make a clear distinction between your ideas and the ideas of others (this should start from initial notemaking
through to final edit).
Fully develop your paragraphs so that your response is clear and you are not just reporting what you have
Work on your summarising and paraphrasing skills.
Learn when and how to include direct quotes in your writing.
Learn how to reference different kinds of source (diagrams, pictures, tables etc)
Good academic practice takes time and working out a system that works for you is the trick.
See The Learning Centres guide to Essay and assignment planning