Academic assignments: Other assignment types

Critiques

In a critique you are required to summarise and evaluate a book, chapter of a book or journal article.

Layout of a critique

Introductory section

  • full bibliographic details
  • overview of what an article or book is about
  • author's conceptual framework.

Body

  • Summary of the content of the text (could also include the intended readership)
  • Critical analysis discussing the quality of the text (in terms of content/ideas, structure/organisation of the text, language used).

Concluding section

  • Final overall evaluation of how well the text achieves its aims and contributes to the topic. This is based on what you have discussed in the critical analysis section.

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Full bibliographic detail should include:

  • author(s)/editor(s)
  • publication date
  • title of text
  • publisher
  • place of publication
  • page numbers if from a chapter, or journal article.

Where appropriate you might have to provide details about editions, translators, prefaces and so forth.

Author details

Depending upon the context, details about the author's background are not always essential or appropriate. But if they are, provide sufficient detail about the author's background, qualifications or experiences so that the reader has some idea of where the author stands in relation to the field and the subject matter.

Author's conceptual framework

The way in which an author frames the issues under investigation is often referred to as the conceptual framework or methodology or an approach to the topic. It is one of the tasks of a reviewer to alert the reader to the particular framework used by the text's author.

Subject matter

This is a summary of what the content of the text is supposed to be about. It should:

  • Highlight the main argument including the key points or issues
  • Point out the evidence upon which the main claims rest
  • Distinguish between the subject matter and the aims or purposes of the text.

Critical analysis

This will involve directing several important questions to the text:

  • Has the author achieved his or her aims?
  • How has the author organised the text (in terms of whether such organisation facilitates the argument, etcetera)?
  • Does the evidence adequately support the central argument?
  • How well has the author used the evidence as presented in the text?
  • Has the author ignored relevant evidence?
  • How has the text contributed to the discipline?

Your concluding interpretation

Your conclusion will point to the book's/article’s usefulness with respect to other already existing works on the subject. This will also include some comment on the writing style of the text and its accessibility for the reader. Finally, consistent with your overall evaluation, you will need to say something about whether others will gain from consulting the work under review.

  1. Familiarise yourself with the general features of the text. If there is one, examine the table of contents for clues as to the text’s organisational structure. The preface or abstract, will give some idea as to why the author wrote the text.
  2. Skim through the various sections taking a mental note of any headings or subheadings.
  3. Read the introductory paragraphs noting: 
    • the main issues
    • the conceptual framework of the text.
  4. Read the concluding paragraphs to pinpoint the author's main conclusions and the principal reasons for them.
  5. Make some brief notes summarising your impressions thus far.
  6. Return to the article and read it more thoroughly. Make notes about those aspects that will feature in your review, namely the conceptual framework, the key ideas as identified by the author, the data and examples used by the author, and the structure of the main argument(s).
  7. Sometimes you might need to consult other works to clarify or verify the point of view that you are developing with respect to the book or article under review.
  8. Once you have finished compiling your notes you can begin organising them to produce your critique.
  9. Finally, in writing the review you should take extra care to ensure that:
    • You have represented the views of the author and the subject matter of the text accurately and fairly
    • Your own views do not intrude unnecessarily into the critique. The reader of your critique will only be interested in your views to the extent that they help evaluate the content of the text. 

Gleick, P 1999, ‘The Human Right to Water’, Water Policy vol.1, no.5, pp.487-503

Peter Gleick sets out to show that the right to water (and sanitation – although not explicitly stated) is a fundamental human right which has been either intended implicitly or stated explicitly in international human rights declarations. In doing so, Gleik explores the question of what it means to ensure that people have their basic needs for water met and how that this is linked with adequate water management and planning. He also points out that water rights are not always about the lack of water but also the quality of the water.

Gleick explores the argument of whether this right to adequate water and sanitation would be better mandated if it were explicitly enshrined in all declarations. However, he argues that if this were the case, it would place greater pressure on states to ensure adequate access, which would encourage better water management and more discussion on equitable sharing of resources. He also warns that where states were not able to provide for the needs of their populations, it could become incumbent on neighbouring states to do so if they could.

Gleick goes on to point out the difficulties of meeting the water needs of human populations despite efforts by international organisations and suggests that while it is outside the parameters of this paper to set out any specific strategy, proposes that a mix of economic, political and social strategies could address needs – but if not, states must address this. If this issue is not addressed, the human and economic cost would be far reaching and as well increase human suffering and conflict.

Gleick bases his discussion on a review of human rights declarations and accompanying documentation and establishes the credibility of his argument that adequate access to water is a fundamental human right. He does not however reach any definitive conclusion about whether such a right would be better enforced if specifically mandated by human rights declarations and only alludes to the potential problems if it was. The other aspect of his argument that could have been sustained but was only alluded to, is the economic cost of such a high proportion of the world’s population without access to clean water or sanitation. While it is beyond the scope of the paper to suggest how states ensure this right for their populations, the author does conclude that it could probably be managed by a mix of strategies including economic, social and political.

Overall, Gleick is successful in arguing for water as a fundamental right while at the same time demonstrating the complexity of addressing the water needs for populations across the world.

 

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Writing a critical review from the University of NSW

 

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