Guidelines to writing critical reviews

Read through the Introduction section of the paper assigned and try to identify its
main objectives. What did the researchers set out to investigate? Why is it important?
What is known about the proteins/processes the authors are interested in from previous
research? Summarize this information in a short paragraph and come back to it as you
read through the rest of the paper.
Next, read through the Materials and Methods section and sketch out a diagram or
a flow-chart of the experiments performed. Try to imagine yourself doing these
experiments in the lab. Will you be able to repeat them without any outside help? Is
something unclear? If so, try to use the Internet to find answers. If you are unable to
make sense of the paper’s experimental methods, you are unlikely to make sense of the
paper in general. So, find answers yourself or ask for help from your instructor or W TA.
Once you understand all of the techniques described in the paper, read the Materials and
Methods section again and revise your diagram or flow-chart. Consult it as you read
through the Results section of the paper.
Turn your attention now to the Results section. Remember that the main focus of
your review should rest with this section. So, read it carefully more than once, making
notes as you go along. Read the Figure legends closely. Make sure you understand what
results are presented where. Are there negative or positive controls? Are the images
presented in Figures uncluttered and clear? Do you find that the text in the Results
section is justified by what is being presented in the Figures and Tables? If something is
unclear, why is it so? This is the critical aspect of your review. Don’t worry about
making mistakes just now. Ask questions of the paper’s authors as you read through and
write them down.
To get a good mark on this assignment, you should have at least THREE critical
points. It may help to think of these points as questions you may ask the authors. These
do not all have to be negative. If you find, for example, that the authors provided
convincing experimental evidence that protein A interacts with protein B, say so. If, on
the other hand, they failed, in your opinion, to provide good experimental evidence for
their claim(s), or if you find that there may be other possibilities accounting for the
observed results, you should explore them.
Finally, read the Discussion section and review it in the context of the obtained
results. Are the conclusions the authors draw from their results seem well argued,
reasoned and supported by the experimental data? Would you have come to similar
conclusions on your own? If not, why do you think you might have come to different
Now, go back to the beginning, look through all of the notes you have taken and
write the opening paragraph of your critical review, stating in the last sentence of this
paragraph what the focus of your paper is going to be. In the subsequent paragraphs of
your paper, advance your critical points, one at a time, and justify each of them. Your
last, concluding paragraph should come back to the beginning, so close your paper in a
meaningful way.
Avoid reviews of the Materials and Methods and/or Results sections without a
true critical focus. Your job is to critically evaluate the experiments and results described
in the paper and to comment on them, not repeat in your own words what experiments
were done.
MARGINS (EXCLUDING REFERENCES. You shouldn’t have many references
because your focus should rest with the paper under review. But you will have to
cite the paper you are reviewing, so at least one reference is necessary.)
Be specific: if something is unclear, write out why it is unclear to you. If you
think of a different or follow-up experiment, suggest it in specific terms, not just “more
experiments needed to be done.” Remember that you don’t have to be negative: if you
think that experiments were well designed and executed, you should say so.
Avoid long-winded introductions and extensive review of literature at all costs.
You are reviewing THIS PARTICULAR paper, so stick to it. Look at the experimental
design, evaluate the results, and carefully consider the discussion. Many students get
caught up in reviewing the literature and going on tangents about previous work. Two or
three (at most) sentences should suffice to summarize the goals of the paper. Don’t get
caught up summarizing the materials and methods described in the paper or regurgitate
the experimental data obtained.
Finally, it’s better to write about what you know than to venture into speculation.
In our labs we immune-precipitated beta-tubulin (IP), cast and ran SDS-PAGE, did
Western blotting, and examined microscopy slides for immunofluorescence (IF). You are
expected to comment on these experiments in the paper under your review. You may
skip sections of the paper you are not familiar with.
Final note
Express your thoughts clearly and simply. Read your sentences our loud.

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