‘critique’ may conclude that the study presented was in fact carried out to the highest possible
standard and that its conclusions are sound and reasonable. On the other hand, many
published papers do have flaws, ranging from subtle to substantial. The following notes are
suggestions for what you should be considering while reading the paper.
Introduction and aims of the study:
• Clearly identify the aim(s) of the study (or the major question that the authors are
seeking to answer). What are the hypotheses being investigated?
• Was the background information provided adequate to understand the aims of the
• Do the papers that the authors reference in the Introduction really say what the authors
state they say? (You shouldn’t read every paper quoted in the Introduction but you
should read some of the key papers).
• Have the authors succeeded in stating why their paper is important in view of what has
been done before?
• What methods did the authors use to investigate the topic?
• Were the methods described in sufficient detail for others to repeat or extend the
• Were the limitations of the methods used outlined, and/or have you evidence based
concerns about the methodology?
• Were there issues with key parts of the methodology, for example appropriate controls
and number of replicates, appropriate model system, appropriate statistics, specificity
of antibodies or pharmacological agents, attempts made to remove subjective bias
where that could be a concern
• Does the experimental approach directly address the hypotheses?
• Can you suggest alternative experimental approached that could have either better
addressed the hypotheses or supplemented the results obtained?
• Are you convinced by the data that is presented?
• Do the numerical values that are provided make sense?
• Are any unexpected results adequately explained, or are anomalous or unexpected
• Are the figures and graphs adequate? (Sometimes important data is omitted or the
data is presented in a format that obscures the inadequacies of the data).
• Were the experiments that were done appropriate with respect to the objectives of the
study; i.e do they directly address the hypotheses?
• Do the legends of the figures and tables clearly describe the data obtained?
• Have the authors summarized their results clearly?
• Were the objectives of the study met? If not, do the authors give an explanation?
• Have the authors correctly interpreted their data, over-interpreted their data or are
there alternative explanations that the authors have ignored? (Try to independently
draw your own conclusions from the data that is presented).
• If the results obtained were statistically significant, were they also biologically
• Have they interpreted their results clearly in the light of previously published work?
• Have they acknowledged potential sources of ‘error’ or technical limitations in their
• Have they discussed all the important points that are raised by their study or have they
ignored something that really is quite important?
• Do they clearly and correctly state what the research provides in terms of
advancement of the field, or do they claim that the research is novel, ground-breaking
or significant when it is not?
• Remember that a critique is not necessarily criticism.
• When you are criticising a point within the paper, moderate what you say by the
importance of the point. That is, for something you believe is a fatal flaw, explain in
detail why; for something you believe is a minor issue that would probably not effect
the interpretation of the data as a whole a short comment is sufficient.
• Provide evidence for your evaluation e.g.
According to Reference (Year) the statistical techniques used in this paper make
the assumption that…which is not valid in the model used.
The pharmacological agent X is not specific to function Y but also affects function Z
• Avoid writing a “style-based” critique that concentrates on criticising the style of
presentation rather than the underlying science.
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