A good review is supportive, constructive, thoughtful, and fair. It identifies both strengths and weaknesses, and offers concrete suggestions for improvements. A critical review evaluates the clarity, quality and originality of research, as well as its relevance and presentation. It acknowledges the reviewer's biases where appropriate, and justifies the reviewer's conclusions. As you do this, ask the five major questions that are central to the research review process:
- What do the researchers want to find out?
- Why is that important to investigate or understand?
- How are the researchers investigating this? Are their research methods appropriate and adequate to the task?
- What do they claim to have found out? Are the findings clearly stated?
- How does this advance knowledge in the field? How well do the researchers place their findings within the context of ongoing scholarly inquiry about this topic?
In the case of a research article, the section presenting research results is surely the heart of the article—though not its soul (which the reader should find in the opening paragraphs and in the discussion section). Reviewers might consider four questions here:
1. Does the results section tell a story—taking the reader from the research questions posed earlier to their answers in the data? Is the logic clear?
2. Are the tables and figures clear and succinct? Can they be “read” easily for major findings by themselves, or should there be additional information provided? Are the authors’ tables consistent with the format of currently accepted norms regarding data presentation? Are the tables and/or figures necessary?
3. Do the authors present too many tables or figures in the form of undigested findings? Are all of them necessary in order to tell the story of this research 2 inquiry; or can some be combined? Remember that tables and figures are very expensive and can take up a lot of space. Also remember that undigested data obscure rather than advance the cumulative development of knowledge in a field. Are alternative conclusions and/or limitations of the research considered?
4. Are the results presented both statistically and substantively meaningful? Have the authors stayed within the bounds of the results their data will support?
5. Does the author clearly identify the research methodology and any associated limitations of the research design?
6. Are participants described, including the method of sample selection if appropriate?
7. Are instruments adequately described, including issues of appropriateness, validity and reliability?
8. Do any evident biases or ethical considerations arise in relation to the methodology?
9. Are the methods for measuring results clearly explained and appropriate?