Reviewing Research Papers

A critique is a systematic means of critically analyzing a piece of research to emphasize both its strengths and faults, as well as its applicability to practice, according to the student learning center of Flinders University in Australia. Professionals frequently need to be able to identify the best current practice, and the capacity to analyze and use published research is crucial to this. As a result, it is a skill that is required in many job descriptions. A detailed critique, such as that required in the health sciences and maybe other disciplinary fields, is suggested in this guide. Check with your tutors and the assignment rules to see what your specific requirements are.

Research Published

 To better understand published research, it is helpful to have some basic understanding of the publishing process. As a last phase in the study process, researchers aim to get their findings published. They intend to publish in professional journals in order to reach the widest possible audience and contribute to professional practice.

The Process of Publishing

 Peer–reviewed periodicals are considered the best for publication because the contents are examined by peers for quality. Briefly, the process involves:

  1. Making a manuscript submission to a journal.
  2. Two experts in the field assess the manuscript (without knowing who the author(s) are). Each reviewer submits a report addressing the article’s relevance, research rigor, and potential value to the profession.
  3. The reviewers make their own decisions on whether it should be published or if it needs more development. The manuscript is subsequently accepted or rejected by an editorial board based on the reviewers’ reports.
  4. Authors may choose to revise their paper in light of the reviewers’ recommendations and then resubmit it to the same or a different journal for consideration for publication. The paper will be subjected to the same scrutiny.

Selecting A Review Article

Consider the following:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • Does it favour a particular research approach (paradigm)?
  • Is there an editorial board? What are their qualifications?
  • Is the peer-review process clearly explained?
  • When was the article published?
  • Is the article a seminal piece of research i.e. often cited by others?

NOTE: Not all publications follow such rigorous procedures before publishing, and not all work that is published is truthful or trustworthy.

Appropriate Research Terminology

Research terminology can be off-putting to those not accustomed to it. Below are some terms that are useful to understand:

  1. Ethics (ethical) clearance: when proposed research involves humans and/or animals, details of the research and how it will be conducted must be approved by an Ethics Approval committee. This process aims to protect the rights of humans and animals so that no harm occurs to either as a result of research.
  2. Identifying a ‘gap’: identifying a topic on which little or no research has been published, in order to come up with a useful, original study.
  3. Reliability: an instrument’s ability to consistently & accurately measure the concept under study.
  4. Representativeness (of a sample): the degree to which a sample reflects the population from which it was drawn.
  5. Rigour: trustworthiness of documentation, procedures and ethics to establish credibility and transferability.
  6. Theoretical framework: theories which provide boundaries for the study and guide all stages.
  7. Validity: the ability of an instrument to measure what it is supposed to measure.

The Critique Writing Process

Critical reviews for research are systematic. They begin at the title, and review each section until the reference list at the end. It is useful to ask yourself questions about the purpose of each component of the article, and whether it achieves that purpose.

The Title

Does the title clearly indicate what the research is about, without being extremely long or too short to be informative? Are the variables or theoretical issues stated and any relationships between them?

The Author(S)

What is the author(s)’ professional and academic qualifications? Have they published previously on a similar topic?


Some journals require keywords to help to identify main areas of focus. Are these informative and relevant?

The Abstract

The purpose of an abstract is to provide a succinct summary of the contents of the article and is usually 50-250 words in length, depending on journal requirements. It should contain enough information to enable a reader to decide whether the article is of interest to them or not, so must be informative.

Ask yourself:

  • Does it explain the purpose of the paper?
  • Does it explain why the research was carried out?
  • What was accomplished?
  • What were the main findings?
  • What is the significance of the research?
  • What conclusions were reached?

The Introduction

The introduction should orientate the reader to the study, by:

  • giving a firm sense of what was done in the study
  • introducing the question /problem
  • developing the background of the study
  • stating the purpose & rationale of the research.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the research question/problem researchable?
  • Is the problem important enough to justify the research?
  • Is the background of the research relevant to the research question?

The Literature Review

The literature review should give an overview of the available literature which frames or surrounds the problem being researched. It should look at the similarities and differences between the literature, as well as the strengths and limitations. It should illustrate how the current study fits into the existing framework of research or how it fills a gap in the literature.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the literature review broad, yet focused on the issue?
  • Is there historical as well as contemporary material to put the area of study into a context?
  • Is there convincing evidence to support assertions?
  • Does it fairly represent opposing views?
  • Does the literature review use a theoretical framework?
  • Does it reveal gaps in the knowledge which this research will fill?

The Purpose:

The aim must be clearly stated, focused on one main idea and should convey the main purpose of the study. Ask yourself: Do you have a clear idea of what the study tried to achieve?

The Research Design:

This section should explicitly clarify what the researcher performed and how it was done, letting the reader to assess the methodologies used, the study’s consistency, reliability, validity, and replication ability. A basic overview of the study approach should be included at the very least. The reader can assess the study design for methodological rigor once the research technique has been developed.

The participants, materials, and process are often described in the method section of the research design. Without going into excessive depth, the detail should be adequate to properly explain the research design and leave no questions unanswered.

  • Participants or sample: The number of participants, their characteristics and the selection process used should be described. Do the participants represent the research well? If any participants did not complete the study, this should be explained. Details such as any payments made to participants and details of major demographic information should be made evident, for example, geographical location, gender, age, affiliation with any institutions etc.
  • Ethics clearance: The process of obtaining ethics clearance and how ethical standards were maintained should be made clear.
  • Use of apparatus: If any apparatus were used it should be briefly identified and described, and its function in the research explained. If any apparatus were obtained or donated by a commercial source, this must be stated.
  • Procedure: Each step in the research procedure should be explained. This includes any instructions to the participants, the formation of groups, and any experimental manipulations. Any control features in the research design should be stated.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there a clear rationale for the chosen research approach, methods and/ or instruments used?
  • Is the research method appropriate for the research question?
  • Was the collection of data appropriate for the research question?
  • Is there enough information concerning the participants?
  • What were the ethical considerations for the research and the participants?
  • Were the methods and/or instruments described in enough detail?
  • Were any ambiguous terms used?
  • Is the method deemed reliable and valid?
  • Are any limitations of the study discussed?

Data Analysis or Results and Findings

 This section should include a description of the data gathered, as well as the primary results and findings, in sufficient detail for the reader to comprehend how the conclusions reached later in the article were arrived at. Illustrative samples of data are commonly utilized in qualitative research. Individual scores or raw data are not mentioned in quantitative data. All relevant evidence should be discussed, including data that contradicts the hypothesis.

Tables and figures should be used for clear representation of data. (In the discussion section, this data should be discussed in text, not as data.) The reader should be made clear as to what the data provided means and why it is important.

Ask yourself:

  • Were the steps involved in the data analysis explained and the strategies justified?
  • Was the data analysis rigorous enough to substantiate the claims?
  • Were all data taken into account? If not, why not?
  • Are the presented results relevant to the research question?
  • Do the tables and graphs (if any) make the data analysis clearer?

The Discussion

In this section, the implications of the research results are evaluated and interpreted in relation to the research question. This is where the findings and the selected theoretical framework come together. The discussion should contain a clear statement of support or otherwise of the original hypothesis or research question. The results of this study and those of other studies should be discussed, and any suggestions for improvements or further research are made here.

There should be no repetition of points already made in other sections.

Ask yourself:

  • Have the results been interpreted in relation to the research question and aims?
  • Have the results been discussed with reference to the research question, hypothesis (if applicable) and theoretical or conceptual frameworks?
  • Have conclusions and /or recommendations been appropriately drawn from the data analysis?
  • Did the researcher highlight the most important results?
  • Have the results been used to support or refute the results of other studies?
  • How relevant and useful are the results to practice?


This section should summaries the main points, and indicate the usefulness of the research. It should not include any new information. Areas for future research may be suggested.

Ask yourself:

  • Were the main points drawn out?
  • Were fresh insights or a new perspective on the topic demonstrated?
  • Have any recommendations been made based on the research?
  • Were there any suggestions for future research?

Reference List or Bibliography

This should contain a list of all sources referred to in the article (in the case of a reference list) or all sources actually accessed in preparation for the article (in the case of a bibliography).

Ask yourself:

  • Are all sources cited clearly and with full bibliographic details provided?
  • Has a wide range of works in the field been referred to?
  • Does the list contain both seminal (classic) and more contemporary literature?

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