How to Write a Critique of an Article, Book, or Book Chapter
last update:
26 September 2007

Preliminary considerations:
  1. Length: customarily a critique of an article or chapter should be no longer than 350–500 words; a book critique should be no longer than 750–800 words.
  2. Tone: a "critical review" does not excuse a "trash and burn" approach to another scholar's work. Take as even-handed an approach as possible, noting both the strong and weak points of the investigation.  Do not "pull punches"; if there are factual or methodological errors, you must take notice of them. However, remember that every study makes some contribution to the field, no matter how small.  Someone wise once said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Organize your remarks into three basic categories:

Note: These three sections should receive approximately 1:3:2 proportional weight (and space) in your critique.

  1. Provide a synopsis of the main features of the work
    1. What is the author's key idea or "thesis" (i.e., what the author wants you to believe and/or do as a result of reading this article or book)?
    2. How is the analysis structured?
    3. What key terms are used, and what do they mean?
  2. Sketch the main supporting arguments of the work. In the process, highlight 3–5 "quotable quotes" to help other people remember the author's key points.
    1. What does the author say to convince you that the thesis should be accepted?
    2. What kinds of evidence is adduced in favor of the thesis? E.g.,
      1. What images, illustrations, Scripture passages and/or other data are cited?
      2. What previous studies does the author cite? Remember to note both the ones contested or refuted as well as those affirmed or used constructively.
    3. How is this evidence interpreted—both in terms of content and method? E.g.,
      1. How are the Scripture passages, etc., used by the author?
      2. How are the earlier studies worked into the author's argument?
  3. Finally, evaluate what you see as the positive contribution of this study for understanding the method or topic under discussion, and point out what you see as its limitations—or even errors of fact or of method.
    1. Content:
      1. What are the most interesting arguments raised or illustrations used?
      2. Which do you think are the most important for our studies?
      3. Which remain unclear to you?
    2. Method:
      1. How reliable are the earlier studies on which the author bases the argument? Do you find the author's use of them compelling?
      2. When you compare the Scripture passages cited in the article/chapter/book with the way they are interpreted by the author, what kinds of differences do you see between your reading and the author's interpretation? Are these differences of method or content or both?
    3. Global:
      1. What do you see as the three most important contributions of this article/chapter/book to understanding the topic?
      2. What do you see as its limitations—or even errors of fact or of method?
      3. What are 2–3 questions that you would find helpful for class discussion of this investigation?
Execution & submission of the assignment:
  1. The complete and accurate Chicago Manual of Style version bibliographic reference (including author, title, publication information, and page references) should be listed at the top of the first page of the review, followed by the reviewer's name and the date the review was written.
  2. The document should be submitted in print to the instructor along with a copy of the article/chapter being reviewed (or an active link to the digital version).
  3. Copies of the review should be posted to the Blackboard, emailed, or otherwise distributed to seminar members by at least the weekend before the class presentation. In addition to the bibliographic information for the article or book, include on the review any pertinent references to the Bible or other seminar texts so your colleagues can prepare the passage(s) ahead of time. If there is a digital text of the work you are reviewing, it is handy to include the link in the review itself so that interested parties can access the study.
  4. You will be allotted 5–7 minutes for your class presentation of one of your critical reviews. (Any other reviews simply will be submitted to the instructor.) Strict time limits will be observed; please practice the delivery so you know you will stay within the allotted time.

Click here: I strongly encourage you to review the Grading Protocol, both for more specific ideas of how to structure your critique and so you will be aware of which elements of the critique will be given more weight in the grade.

These sample reviews are provided to help underscore the review format. Note, however, that they were for scholarly, print journals and therefore omit some of the specific questions mentioned in the foregoing outline.