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Write a Critical Review of a Scientific Journal Article

1. Identify how and why the research was carried out

Read the article(s) carefully and use the questions below to help you identify how and why the research was carried out. Look at the following sections: 

Introduction

  • What was the objective of the study?

Methods

  • What methods were used to accomplish this purpose (e.g., systematic recording of observations, analysis and evaluation of published research, assessment of theory, etc.)?
  • What techniques were used and how was each technique performed?
  • What kind of data can be obtained using each technique?
  • How are such data interpreted?
  • What kind of information is produced by using the technique?

Results

  • What objective evidence was obtained from the authors’ efforts (observations, measurements, etc.)?
  • What were the results of the study? 
  • How was each technique used to obtain each result?
  • What statistical tests were used to evaluate the significance of the conclusions based on numeric or graphic data?
  • How did each result contribute to answering the question or testing the hypothesis raised in the introduction?

Discussion

  • How were the results interpreted? How were they related to the original problem (authors’ view of evidence rather than objective findings)? 
  • Were the authors able to answer the question (test the hypothesis) raised?
  • Did the research provide new factual information, a new understanding of a phenomenon in the field, or a new research technique?
  • How was the significance of the work described?
  • Do the authors relate the findings of the study to literature in the field?
  • Did the reported observations or interpretations support or refute observations or interpretations made by other researchers?

These questions were adapted from the following sources: 
Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. Bioscience 41(4), 248-250.
Wood, J.M. (2003). Research Lab Guide. MICR*3260 Microbial Adaptation and Development Web Site. Retrieved July 31, 2006.

2. Establish the research context

Once you are familiar with the article, you can establish the research context by asking the following questions:

  • Who conducted the research? What were/are their interests?
  • When and where was the research conducted?
  • Why did the authors do this research?
  • Was this research pertinent only within the authors’ geographic locale, or did it have broader (even global) relevance?
  • Were many other laboratories pursuing related research when the reported work was done? If so, why?
  • For experimental research, what funding sources met the costs of the research?
  • On what prior observations was the research based? What was and was not known at the time?
  • How important was the research question posed by the researchers?

These questions were adapted from the following sources:
Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. Bioscience 41(4), 248-250.
Wood, J.M. (2003). Research Lab Guide. MICR*3260 Microbial Adaptation and Development Web Site. Retrieved July 31, 2006.

3. Evaluate the research

Remember that simply disagreeing with the material is not considered to be a critical assessment of the material.  For example, stating that the sample size is insufficient is not a critical assessment.  Describing why the sample size is insufficient for the claims being made in the study would be a critical assessment.

Use the questions below to help you evaluate the quality of the authors’ research:

Title

  • Does the title precisely state the subject of the paper?

Abstract

  • Read the statement of purpose in the abstract. Does it match the one in the introduction?

Acknowledgments

  • Could the source of the research funding have influenced the research topic or conclusions?

Introduction

  • Check the sequence of statements in the introduction. Does all the information lead coherently to the purpose of the study?

Methods

  • Review all methods in relation to the objective(s) of the study. Are the methods valid for studying the problem?
  • Check the methods for essential information. Could the study be duplicated from the methods and information given?
  • Check the methods for flaws. Is the sample selection adequate? Is the experimental design sound?
  • Check the sequence of statements in the methods. Does all the information belong there? Is the sequence of methods clear and pertinent?
  • Was there mention of ethics? Which research ethics board approved the study?

Results

  • Carefully examine the data presented in the tables and diagrams. Does the title or legend accurately describe the content? 
  • Are column headings and labels accurate? 
  • Are the data organized for ready comparison and interpretation? (A table should be self-explanatory, with a title that accurately and concisely describes content and column headings that accurately describe information in the cells.)
  • Review the results as presented in the text while referring to the data in the tables and diagrams. Does the text complement, and not simply repeat data? Are there discrepancies between the results in the text and those in the tables?
  • Check all calculations and presentation of data.
  • Review the results in light of the stated objectives. Does the study reveal what the researchers intended?

Discussion

  • Does the discussion clearly address the objectives and hypotheses?
  • Check the interpretation against the results. Does the discussion merely repeat the results? 
  • Does the interpretation arise logically from the data or is it too far-fetched? 
  • Have the faults, flaws, or shortcomings of the research been addressed?
  • Is the interpretation supported by other research cited in the study?
  • Does the study consider key studies in the field?
  • What is the significance of the research? Do the authors mention wider implications of the findings?
  • Is there a section on recommendations for future research? Are there other research possibilities or directions suggested? 

Consider the article as a whole

  • Reread the abstract. Does it accurately summarize the article?
  • Check the structure of the article (first headings and then paragraphing). Is all the material organized under the appropriate headings? Are sections divided logically into subsections or paragraphs?
  • Are stylistic concerns, logic, clarity, and economy of expression addressed?

These questions were adapted from the following sources: 
Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. Bioscience 41(4), 248-250.
Wood, J.M. (2003). Research Lab Guide. MICR*3260 Microbial Adaptation and Development Web Site. Retrieved July 31, 2006.

4. Establish the significance of the research

After you have evaluated the research, consider whether the research has been successful. Has it led to new questions being asked, or new ways of using existing knowledge? Are other researchers citing this paper?

You should consider the following questions:

  • How did other researchers view the significance of the research reported by your authors?
  • Did the research reported in your article result in the formulation of new questions or hypotheses (by the authors or by other researchers)?
  • Have other researchers subsequently supported or refuted the observations or interpretations of these authors?
  • Did the research make a significant contribution to human knowledge?
  • Did the research produce any practical applications?
  • What are the social, political, technological, medical implications of this research?
  • How do you evaluate the significance of the research?

To answer these questions, look at review articles to find out how reviewers view this piece of research. Look at research articles and databases like Web of Science to see how other people have used this work. What range of journals have cited this article?

These questions were adapted from the following sources:

Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. Bioscience 41(4), 248-250.
Wood, J.M. (2003). Research Lab Guide. MICR*3260 Microbial Adaptation and Development Web Site. Retrieved July 31, 2006.

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