WRITING A CRITICAL REVIEW
What is a critical review?
A critical review is much more than a simple summary; it is an analysis and evaluation of a book, article,
or other medium. Writing a good critical review requires that you understand the material, and that you
know how to analyze and evaluate that material using appropriate criteria.
Steps to writing an effective critical review:
Skim the whole text to determine the overall thesis, structure and methodology. This will help you better
understand how the different elements fit together once you begin reading carefully.
Read critically. It is not enough to simply understand what the author is saying; it is essential to
challenge it. Examine how the article is structured, the types of reasons or evidence used to support the
conclusions, and whether the author is reliant on underlying assumptions or theoretical frameworks. Take
copious notes that reflect what the text means AND what you think about it.
Examine all elements. All aspects of the text—the structure, the methods, the reasons and evidence, the
conclusions, and, especially, the logical connections between all of these—should be considered.
The types of questions asked will vary depending on the discipline in which you are writing, but the
following samples will provide a good starting point:
What type of text is it? (For example: Is it a primary source or secondary
source? Is it original research or a comment on original research?)
What are the different sections and how do they fit together?
Are any of the sections particularly effective (or ineffective)?
Is the research quantitative or qualitative?
Does the methodology have any weaknesses?
How does the design of the study address the hypothesis?
Reasons/Evidence What sources does the author use (interviews, peer-reviewed journals,
government reports, journal entries, newspaper accounts, etc.)?
What types of reasoning are employed (inductive, deductive, abductive)?
What type of evidence is provided (empirical, statistical, logical, etc.)?
Are there any gaps in the evidence (or reasoning)?
Does the data adequately support the conclusion drawn by the researcher(s)?
Are other interpretations plausible?
Are the conclusions dependent on a particular theoretical formulation?
What does the work contribute to the field?
What assumptions does the author make?
Does the author account for all of the data, or are portions left out?
What alternative perspectives remain unconsidered?
Are there any logical flaws in the construction of the argument?
Formulate a thesis based on your overall evaluation. A strong thesis will acknowledge both strengths
E.g. While the article reports significant research supporting the view that certain types of computer
use can have a positive impact on a student’s GPA, the conclusion that game playing alone can
improve student achievement is based on a misinterpretation of the evidence.
Not: This article misinterprets key evidence to support the conclusion that game playing can improve GPA.
Ensure that your thesis answers the assignment. If you are asked to write a review of a single text, with
no outside sources, then your essay should focus strictly on the material in the text and your analysis and
evaluation of it. If you are asked to write about more than one work, or to draw connections between an
article or book and the course material, then your review should address these concerns.
Choose a structure that will best allow you to support your thesis within the required page constraints.
The first example below works well with shorter assignments, but the risk is that too much time will be
spent developing the overview, and too little time on the evaluation. The second example works better for
longer reviews because it provides the relevant description with the analysis and evaluation, allowing the
reader to follow the argument easily.
Two common structures used for critical reviews:
Introduction (with thesis)
Overview of the text
Point 1: Explanation and evaluation
Evaluation of the text
Point 4 …(continue as necessary)
Point 2: Explanation and evaluation
Point 3: Explanation and evaluation
(continue elaborating as many points as
Important: Avoid presenting your points in a laundry-list style. Synthesize the information as much as
“Laundry-List” Style of Presentation
The article cites several different studies in support
of the argument that playing violent video games can
have a positive impact on student achievement.
These studies refer to educational games and other
types of computer use. The argument is not logically
well constructed. Educational games are not the same
as violent video games. The article also ignores data
indicating that people with the highest GPA are those
that reported low computer use. Also, different types
of computer use could include things like researching
or word-processing, and these activities are very
different from playing violent video games.
The evidence cited in the article does not support the
overall conclusion that playing violent games improves
GPA. One study only examines educational games in
relation to GPA, so it is questionable whether the same
findings will hold true for other types of games. Another
study does not distinguish between different types of
computer use, making it difficult to assess whether it is
game playing or activities such as research and writing
that contributed to improvements in GPA. Further, the
author disregards relevant data that indicates that students
with the highest GPAs are those who report low
computer use, which means that a direct correlation
between game playing and GPA cannot be supported.
© Allyson Skene. The Writing Centre, University of Toronto at Scarborough. See terms and conditions for use at
CHANGE YOUR FOCUS, CHANGE YOUR TEAM: An
Integrated, Strengths-Based Approach to Corporate
by Marie Zimenoff
As global economic pressures increase, companies are continually seeking opportunities to be
more innovative, develop customers into brand ambassadors, and attract the best talent. Recent
human resource trends have highlighted employee engagement as a critical element for achieving company goals and positive outcomes. Data supporting the relationship between employee
engagement, career development, and critical business metrics is plentiful. As such, savvy organizations are creating a robust workforce by engaging employees through career development
opportunities and onsite leadership training.
The Business Case for Engagement
It might sound like good news employee engagement in the U.S. workforce is at its highest since
2000. In a 2014 study, Gallup found that 31.5 per cent of U.S. employees were “involved in,
enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace,” up from 29.6 per cent in 2013
(Adkins, 2015). However, this still means nearly 70 per cent of the workforce is not engaged.
Most human resource leaders are familiar with this research, which also provides alarming cost
data associated with productivity loss. In 2013, Gallup estimated that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity (Lipman, 2013). Perhaps due to the global nature of this data, the author has observed it often dismissed by organization leaders who believe their company is not subject to these influences.
In an effort to find metrics that might hit home for these leaders, there are additional sources
human resource and career development professionals can cite to create a business case for
engagement within their organization. An early Gallup Management Journal (GMJ) survey also
ties engagement to innovation and customer service delivery, two key components to competitive advantage in today’s global marketplace (Krueger & Killham, 2006). Gallup research found
59 per cent of engaged employees strongly agreed that their current job brings out their most
creative ideas while only 3 per cent of actively disengaged employees strongly agreed with that
same statement. (See table: Creativity on the Job). The study identified significant differences
in how engaged and disengaged employees react to creative ideas from their colleagues and view
the company’s encouragement of innovation, suggesting that idea generation can be amplified
among engaged employees or stifled by the disengaged employees. In addition to the impact on
innovation, the GMJ found a consistent connection between employee engagement and customer
52................................Career Planning and Adult Development JOURNAL............................Fall 2015
They found that 51 per cent of engaged employees felt their coworkers do what is right for our
customers. Only 10 per cent of the disengaged employees agreed with this statement (Krueger
& Killham, 2006). Beyond losses in productivity and erosion of customer engagement, the other
cost of disengagement is attrition. JDA Professional Services, Inc. calculated the cost of replacing a technical employee with a $60,000 salary to be $150,000, including direct and indirect
costs. They suggest direct costs total 80 per cent of an employee’s salary and a multiplier of 2-3
times the annual salary to determine the total cost of hire. For positions that are difficult to fill
and as the pool of talent becomes more constricted for many jobs, this cost and the time required
to find talent will increase.
Connecting Career Development, Engagement, and Retention
The drivers behind employee engagement, as found by Aon Hewitt in their 2014 Trends in
Global Employee Engagement Report, include career opportunities, managing performance, organization reputation, pay, communication, innovation, recognition, and brand alignment. Career
opportunity was the top driver for engagement across the generations and for three of the four
job functions surveyed (Aon Hewitt, 2014). Echoing these findings, in 2014 only 40 per cent of
the workforce knew about their company’s goals, strategies and tactics, making it difficult for the
employee to then connect how their work adds value to the bigger picture within the company
and beyond (Fermin, 2014).
Similarly, as employees are leaving organizations, the reasons for leaving that rise to the top
include lack of career advancement opportunities, lack of challenging work, lack of meaningful work, lack of recognition, poor relationship with their manager, and salary. A recent study
by the NPA, who surveys recruiters, found that “seeking growth/challenge” and “unsatisfactory
progression” were the top reasons for employees actively seeking job change. The number who
reported unsatisfactory compensation/benefits (22.3 per cent) was equaled by those reporting
unsatisfactory career progression (NPA, 2013).
Fall 2015..............................Career Planning and Adult Development JOURNAL..............................53
Career and other development programs play a key role in addressing nearly all of the drivers for
engagement and employee’s reasons for leaving. The NPA and Aon Hewitt research aligns with
the anecdotal data gathered by the author in interactions with thousands of professionals across
the nation who seek job change as an answer to stifled career growth or “lack of meaning” in
Where Career Development Programs Fail
As the opportunities for advancement in many companies are limited due to delayed retirement,
many career development programs fail to achieve long-term effectiveness by setting false hopes
for advancement. Successful development programs help individuals to identify their motivated
skills or strengths, understand how these fit with company strategic objectives and needs, and
uncover opportunities to add value in other ways.
Career development programs that focus on career exploration and development independent of
the organization can also have limited effectiveness. They fail to connect the employee with realistic opportunities within the organization or build understanding of their responsibility in attaining additional skills or education, building appropriate relationships, or meeting other requirements to move within the company. In doing so, they may set false expectations with individuals
in the organization and negatively impact engagement.
Lastly, career development programs that are focused on improving weaknesses have limited
impact on engagement, although according to Gallup research, may be better than a complete
lack of feedback and coaching within the organization (Brim & Asplund, 2009). Although human resource and career development practitioners may find this hard to believe, 61 per cent of
people believe that you will grow the most in your areas of weakness despite growing data demonstrating that the greatest potential for growth, contribution, and productivity lies in our areas of
strength (Buckingham, 2007). Adopting this philosophy can be challenging in traditional organizations, but the data-rich evidence for its superiority are increasingly convincing.
A Strengths-Based, Team-Focused Training
In a 2009 study, Gallup also found that if supervisors focus on strengths, the chances of their
employees being actively disengaged at work are only one in 100 (Brim & Asplund, 2009). This
research, and the above observations of successful career development programs, provided the
foundation for a program the author developed for global leaders within an engineering company
looking to increase their employee engagement and develop manager coaching skills. The company had incorporated strengths concepts into select individual teams and among their leadership
team. They sought to increase the understanding of strengths among senior leaders and provide
tools for managers to use the concepts within their teams.
The Change Your Focus, Change Your Team program was customized to incorporate the company’s core values, address the Five Dysfunctions of a Team framework used within the leadership
team, and provide tools for managers to start strengths conversations with individuals or teams.
The tools integrated with corporate performance metrics, and delivered basic coaching concepts
with an appreciative inquiry approach that each manager could use within their team. Building
on this knowledge and skills-based language, managers could apply tools with their team to iden54................................Career Planning and Adult Development JOURNAL............................Fall 2015
tify strengths, develop a resource map, create a project plan, incorporate strengths into performance reviews, and connect personal strengths to the organization or project goals.
Tool 1: Strengths Identification. Setting the foundation, the first tool created opportunities for
managers to understand the strengths of their team members. It also provided a platform for
teams to learn the strengths of each individual on the team, introducing new language among
the team and promoting reconfiguration of projects and tasks to align with strengths. Although
employees and managers could bring in outside resources, the tool provided a platform for conversation without additional expense and allowed international leaders to adapt the tool for their
language and office culture.
Tool 2: Resource Map. The resource map activity allowed managers to lead individual employees through assessing the resources within the organization that support their strengths
and spurred conversations between the employee and manager regarding the resources, people,
or experiences they can seek out to build on their strengths. These development opportunities
opened the doors for employees to identify opportunities for building on their strengths within
the context of the company’s current needs, regardless of advancement opportunities.
Tool 3: Project/Organization Mapping. This structured activity directed individuals to map
how they contribute, using their unique strengths, to the organization or project. The structure of
the tool facilitated a conversation between the manager and the team to identify the organization/
project goals, determine how each individual contributes to the goals, and create an action plan
to develop employee strengths in relation to these goals.
Tool 4: Project Success Map. Building on the manager and team’s knowledge of employee
strengths, managers could use this resource to determine how a project would require each of the
four domains of leadership (Conchie & Rath, 2009). When planning a project, managers would
assign tasks to build on these strengths, increasing engagement, productivity, and outcomes.
Along with the Project/Organization Mapping tool, this activity generated discussions between
managers and employees regarding how employees contribute to the larger organization or project.
Tool 5: Strengths-Based Reviews. The final tool provided an outline for employees to prepare
for their annual review in a strengths-based format. It outlined the organization’s key metrics and
prompted employees to identify how they apply their strengths to contribute to each goal. The
tool also required each employee to provide strategies for building on their strengths to improve
performance. This provided a context for managers and employees to focus on strengths during
reviews, instead of the traditional focus on weaknesses or areas for improvement.
These strengths-based tools provided simple development programs for managers dealing with
specific issues within teams. The programs created a springboard for developing newly formed
teams through guided discussion and building of trust among the team. Specific programs also
addressed the issues of under-performing teams by facilitating discovery of refinement within the
teams division of tasks, encouraging appreciation of each member’s contributions and strengths,
and building trust within the team. Similarly, individual tools assisted with diffusing conflict
Fall 2015..............................Career Planning and Adult Development JOURNAL..............................55
among teams. Perpetuating the philosophy of focusing on strengths instead of working on weaknesses, the tools also provided opportunities for high-performing teams. Metrics to measure success of the program and tools included perceived trust within teams, reported team performance
(underperforming, performing, high performing), and attrition/retention within the business unit.
As career consultants and human resource professionals, we strive to develop programs that give
managers and employees the tools to engage, grow, and increase productivity. The responses of
those seeking job change validates these efforts, as does the recent corporate movement toward
developing effective programs. Today, 90 per cent of leaders think an engagement strategy will
have an impact on business success, but fewer than 25 per cent of them have a strategy (Fermin,
Human resources or internal career coaches looking to build such strategies will continue to create value by building programs that connect employee development with corporate goals, talent
gaps, and performance measures and designing systems to capture meaningful metrics, including
customer service, innovation or innovation culture, and the true organizational cost of employee
Adkins, A. (2015). Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014. Referenced from http://www.gallup.com/poll/181289/majority-employees-not-engaged-despitegains-2014.aspx?utm_source=EMPLOYEE_ENGAGEMENT&utm_medium=topic&utm_
Aon Hewitt (2014). Trends in Global Employee Engagement. Referenced f ...
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