A critical review should contain a summary and an evaluation of the work you have chosen to
work on. You may wish to reflect this in the structure of your review. In this context, ‘critical’
means ‘involving an analysis of the merits and shortcomings of the article’, rather than being
‘disapproving’ or ‘negative’ about it.
An important part of a critical review is the summary of the ideas presented in the article
itself (the summary may well take up to two thirds of the overall review). Make sure you use
paraphrasing effectively to show your understanding of these ideas, as well as your judgement
of what are the important aspects of the argument put forward in the article. Write for a
reader who has basic understanding of the subject, but is not familiar with the work you are
summarising. Make sure you don’t simply repeat the words of the author and use quotes
The summary should be understandable on its own to a reader who hasn’t read the work you
are reviewing. It should be faithful to the original and represent the ideas of the author in a
balanced way, i.e. more attention should go on ideas that are talked about more extensively
in the work you are summarizing. You might have to omit from the summary some parts that
you consider less important – try to signal briefly that you are doing this
Throughout, try to be specific. It is not sufficient to say: ‘The author argues against this.’ You
need to say ‘The author argues against this on the grounds that. . . ’ Authors of linguistics
papers usually base their argumentation on a set of data. You can’t reproduce these data and
their analysis in their entirety and present the author’s discussion in detail, but giving some
examples at crucial points in the summary will give the reader a much clearer idea of what is
being talked about.
The critique should point out the strengths and the weaknesses in the article (this part will
represent your own considered, well-researched and well-supported opinion). Try to think
whether the account of the data put forward by the author covers the data, where it helps
explain why the data look the way they look, whether it is better (i.e. more general, or more
economical, or more elegant) than other theories. Consider what contribution the article makes
to the field, what is the significance of its findings or argument. There is no need to evaluate the
style or the language of the article, unless you think that it suffers from clarity of expression or
lack of editing that compromises the argument itself, or you think it is exceptionally perspicuous
or eloquent and you want to note that.
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