Guidelines for a Well-Written Critical Review
Critical reviews must have a specific structure in order to be considered such a form of writing. This means that, while there is some creative freedom and you can express your opinions on another piece of writing, there are some elements which must not be left out. Also, do not forget to structure your information so that it is easy to go through and so that the main points are made accessible to every reader. If this is part of an assignment, make sure you respect the required formatting specifications and adapt the work to the intended purpose: keep a format language and approach for academic papers and an informal, yet professional one for a non-academic one.
How to Write a Good Critical Review in 5 Steps
1. Length of the review must be proportional in the length of the reviewed article
It goes without saying that the review must be shorter than the article to be reviewed. An acceptable review ranges between one and four pages, the first one being considered short and the last one long. Keeping this in mind, these are the limits for your own review. Try not to write under a page as it would be too little information. Your review must include an introduction, a summary of the article, the critique, conclusion, and references. Even for a very short article, the review should be of at least one page. Anything under may mean too few arguments in the critique area or not enough good references to base your review on.
On the other hand, you can also write too much. Under no circumstance must you write a review that is longer than the article. Even writing over four pages might be too much because readers could get lost in too much information. However, if you do end up writing a review that is longer than four pages make sure it is based on good arguments, it is not wordy, and it has an objective center. Use headings to properly structure information so that your reader can follow your ideas with ease. Do not write a review based on a negative rant.
2. Write a good introduction
Like with all written materials of the type, the introduction is very important. This is a summary of your own work. It will explain the title and the intention, the tone and approach of the article. This is where you summarize the key argument of the review and where you state the positive or negative type of evaluation. Do not go into details at this point because you will soon do so in the critique section. Also, do not try to summarize the article and say too much about it.
The introduction is the summary of your own work and anyone who reads it must know at a glance what it is you want to expand in the rest of the paper. Use this part of the article to your advantage and make a great point in favor of your review. Maybe you did not find much to say about the article, but you can sell your own opinion with a well-written introduction.
3. Summarize the article to be reviewed
Your review must not remain without a summary of the article you want to evaluate. When writing the summary, make sure you respect the order of arguments and the original structure of the article. If this is something you want to criticize, it would be great to have this at hand in the same material. However, as important as the summary is, this part should not be longer than a third of the rest of the article at most. Stick to an objective presentation and save the comments for their own designated part of the review.
4. The body of your review
The review must be based on specific criteria and well-referenced argumentation. You have already made a summary of your review in the introduction. Now you have to go back to that idea and try to explain it. There will be several arguments you will need to list. Make sure you give each argument at least one dedicated paragraph, if not more. Also, your arguments are the most important part of the review, so use headlines and other types of article formatting to make them visible.
Most chances are you will have both negative as well as positive opinions about the article. Start with the ones that are most prominent. For example, if your review mainly has negative critique, start with that and list the positive critique after. And vice versa. In case the article is pretty balanced, you must make a choice on what type of critique to start with. You can also judge according to the importance of the aspect in which the article scored the respective critiques. Think about it qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
5. Pay attention to the conclusion
Normally, by the time they get to this point, many people are tired of the subject and lose interest. The conclusion is often times half-delivered. But just because this happens often and to so many people, it does not mean that it is OK in any way. On the contrary, the conclusion is very important and it must restate the initial argument.
If at the end of the review you are just as convinced with what you said in the beginning and if your arguments are well-rounded and deliver the same idea, then you have managed to create a good review. On the other hand, if you fail to state the same thing in the conclusion, or if the arguments you brought do not correspond with the conclusion, then there was a flaw in your evaluation.
An article writer might have a bit more freedom than you do. The fact that he strayed from a well-defined structure, which you are also careful to point out, is still permitted as long as the article delivers a great idea. On the other hand, when it comes to your review, things are stricter in form and content. You need to have a well-rounded piece of work, with the beginning corresponding with the end and the body being a good connection between the two. Your creativity in drafting the review consists on the approach and on the evaluation.