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Rough Plans for Critical Reviews

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

As a tutor I like to see early on, in email or on paper, about one page of notes on the plan for a critical review. The detailed content of each of the points below can, and in fact should, change repeatedly as you do the review, but it helps both student and tutor to have your current answers to them at any one time.

  1. A title. Actually I often write out up to five possible titles for any paper I'm writing, and every time I work on it I add or delete some: only takes a minute a time, but titles are important and a way for me to review each time what my paper REALLY is about.

  2. A private note on why you are interested in this / what your private agenda is. You don't put this in the final CR; but it always helps to be clear about what you yourself hope to get out of any piece of work.

  3. Your criteria for picking the articles you pick to review. It is NOT impressive just to pick any five randomly. You should say why.

  4. What the nearest published (critical) review on the topic is. Search explicitly for them; and find them. (E.g. search for papers with "review" in their title, or of course in journals that have "review" in their title such as Psychological Review.) You can refer to them; but you need a story about how yours is different (newer, different slant, ...). But pretending you are the only person ever to review the area is not plausible.

  5. Your current plan about how to be critical on your topic. E.g. criticise their methods, criticise their narrow-mindedness on theory (e.g. considering only biology not social aspects, or whatever) ...
  6. Check all the search methods above, and write a sentence or two on what you found from each and whether it looks useful or not. So make sure, besides searching online databases, you have searched the library catalogue, the WWW, Bernstein textbook, etc.

  7. Start the log of papers looked at (ordered, used).

In short

  1. A draft title (or set of alternative titles)
  2. What your personal interest in this topic is
  3. Your criteria for selecting the articles to be reviewed.
  4. What the nearest existing review is. How yours will differ from it.
  5. Your plan of how to be critical on this topic.
  6. Notes on all the search approaches you have checked.
  7. Start of the log of papers looked at

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