Why Critique Technical Articles?
Critiquing a technical article increases your knowledge in the subject area of the article critiqued. Also, during the process of critiquing technical articles you increase your own technical writing and experimental design and interpretation skills. Finally, you increase your self-confidence and critical thinking skills. You eventually realize that all scientists are human beings and that everything in print is not necessarily true. You will both write and review technical articles if you pursue a career in research and/or academics. However, regardless of your career choice the skills you develop from reviewing technical articles will be useful.
When a scientist submits an article for publication in a journal, the manuscript is critiqued by several of the author's peers before it is accepted for publication. The purpose of this procedure is to ensure that published articles are of reasonable quality and importance. This does not mean that all methods and interpretations published in journals are correct! It just means that several scientists have read the article, suggested improvements, and decided that the research presented is of value to a wider audience.
What's the Difference between Summarizing and Critiquing an Article?
It is important to recognize the difference between summarizing an article and critiquing it. Summarizing a technical article simply means presenting it in a brief format and assuring yourself and your audience that you understand the article. Such a summary is part of a critique. However, a critique should also include a critical evaluation of the article. In a critique you must explain why you do or do not accept the information and/or conclusions in the article as correct.
Guide for Critiquing a Technical Article
1. Begin by reading through the article and then looking up further information on any terms, techniques, reactions or processes you do not understand. The articles referenced in the article under review are a good place to start. Textbooks on the subject may also be useful.
2. Next evaluate the writing style, organization, and clarity of the article. You do not have to understand everything said in the article to do this. However, you do have to distinguish between gaps in your technical knowledge and poor organization and clarity on the author's part. Begin by asking, did I understand the article? Then, if you did not understand the article, ask yourself why not? How might the organization and clarity of the article be improved?
3. Finally, begin evaluating the content of the article. Start with the abstract and proceed through the conclusions.
4. The abstract should briefly summarize what was done and why? It should be quantitative.
5. The introduction should explain the motivation and importance of the research. What is its scientific significance or usefulness and application? The introduction should also demonstrate how the article relates to previously published research and how it is an original contribution.
6. The materials and methods section should describe all experimental procedures in sufficient detail that they can be reproduced. This should include sampling, analyses, reaction mechanisms, data manipulation, etc. Are all experimental procedures included? Are sufficient details of the procedures supplied? It is a good idea to look up any referenced procedures to insure that no interferences or other complications of the procedure were ignored.
7. The results section should present all relevant data in an easily viewed and understood format. This will probably include tables and figures as well as text. An interpretation of the data should also be presented in this section or in a subsequent discussion section. Start by locating the various representations of the data sets. Do the tables, figures and discussion of the data agree and complement each other? Is all of the data presented in either tabular or figure format discussed in the text? It is not uncommon for authors to ignore data for which they have no interpretation. Are the interpretations and inferences drawn by the authors supported by their data? Are there other possible interpretations of the data? Can the other interpretations of the data be proved or disproved by the experiments presented? What experiments might be designed to distinguish between the various interpretations?
8. The conclusion section should summarize what was learned or accomplished by the research presented. Again, ask yourself if the conclusions drawn are valid based on the data presented. Also ask yourself if the research presented had scientific value and/or a practical application.