The Power of Criticality: Are you using your critical power?


So you’ve been told to be more critical but you aren’t sure what that means. Maybe your approach has revealed a tendency to just blindly accept sources, ideas, theories and models. Maybe you have just been summarizing what others have said, or been purely descriptive of theories and models. This won’t allow you to make insightful interpretation though, and will restrict how evaluative and innovative you might be in your own work.

In academic writing, and in many other domains, you may need to engage in critical reviewing, usually with a view to identifying areas for improvement or further innovation, research and development. So where do you start? Below are some question prompts and ideas to get you going…

First of all: Who is the author? What’s their background? What’s their frame of reference? I.e. where are they coming from academically? Do they have an established reputation in their field? Are they an emerging author? What is their own motivation for producing the source?

What’s your overall view of the source you are critiquing? What’s your opinion on it? Assess the strengths and weaknesses. Provide either or both negative and positive criticism. Judge the value of it (a paper, book, argument, philosophy, model, theory, etc).

Unpick the way the author produce the work – how did they do it? Was it successful in meeting its aims by doing it that way? Could it have been done better in another way?

What do you understand of the background of the subject area being put forward? Do you understand it better after engaging with the source you are critiquing?

Do a quick summary: what are the main points? Highlights? The good, the bad and the ugly?

What evidence is used? Does other evidence from another source suggest problems with this source?

Are there different schools of thought on this matter? What are the other arguments? Who are other key authors in the field?

Are you in agreement with the main arguments or ideas proposed yourself? Why or why not? What other suggestions would you put forward instead? With what justification?

Are there any errors of fact, accuracy or omission? Are there errors of interpretation? Has any key literature been left out and unconsidered? What biases are evident in the source?

Does the source lack clarity?  Are there underlying presuppositions and assumptions that have not been clearly articulated?

What methods did the source writer use? Have they articulated their research approach so it can be replicated?

What style of source is it? Is it objective, or subjective enough? Would it benefit by a greater inclusion of representative voices, a bigger sample size, or more narrative and thickly descriptive case study material?

What gaps does this work identify? What further work or research may be needed and therefore could you recommend to fill such gaps in knowledge?

References and further reading:

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