How to Read Critically for a Literature Review
  • 3-minute read
  • 14th August 2015

How to Read Critically for a Literature Review

The notion of ‘critical’ analysis can be difficult to grasp, as many people think that ‘critical’ simply means criticising something. But critical analysis is more nuanced than that and an essential skill to learn for academic writing.

Taking a critical approach to analysis means that, as well as describing ideas and theories, you must consider their strengths and weaknesses. This is essential in a literature review, which requires you to assess existing research.

Furthermore, being able to critically analyse other people’s work will allow you to bring the same skills to bear on your own work. And this will help you to construct an argument more effectively.

Here, then, are a few top tips on how to approach a literature review critically when writing a dissertation.

Thesis and Purpose

When conducting a literature review, ask what the author’s aims and objectives were for every study you examine. This will make it easier to determine how successful the study was and the significance of its results.


A clearly stated methodology is an important part of any study. Critical analysis involves considering the methods used in research and asking whether they were appropriate to its aims.

Factors such as whether the researcher has picked a qualitative or quantitative approach, the sample size used and whether an experiment is easily replicated will go a long way to determining the validity of research.

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Theoretical Assumptions

When conducting a literature review (as well as when writing your own work), try to identify the theoretical assumptions behind the research. These are the broad ideas which underpin any study. Taking them for granted may lead to confirmation bias (i.e. overlooking results which don’t fit your expectations), so identifying unstated assumptions is vital to critical analysis.

Alternative Arguments

You should also ask whether there are alternative possibilities left unexplored in the literature you’re reviewing. Can you think of any counterarguments to the arguments presented? Is the research up to date? Have other researchers responded to the study? Does the researcher overgeneralise?

Asking these kinds of questions will help you to identify the strengths and weakness of any given study.

Significance to Your Own Work

It isn’t enough to merely describe the research you review: you also need to explain why it’s significant and how this relates to your own point of view. This will help you to express what your research contributes to the existing debate.

Don’t forget: if you want one of Proofed’s proofreaders to cast an eye over your literature review, you can send in a 500-word sample for free today.

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