Authors publish research for a variety of reasons, most importantly to disseminate their findings. Readers of published work should not simply take the authors data and interpretation at face value. Rather, readers should learn to critically evaluate the journal articles before agreeing with the data and interpretation. A critical analysis of a paper is a way for readers to systematically identify both the strengths and weaknesses of the research article in order to assess the usefulness and validity of research findings. The goal of this exercise is to help you to develop your critical analysis skills and your scientific writing skills. For each critical analysis you write (you are expected to write 3!), you will write a brief (500 word maximum) report. There are several different approaches to conducting a critical analysis. I have outlined several approaches that you could take below. This is not an exhaustive list and so you should feel free to use other approaches to the critique if you see fit. Do NOT try to take all of the approaches in a single analysis. 1. Identify the hypothesis and the rationale for the hypothesis. Outline the argument that the authors make to justify the hypothesis(es) they have for the experiment. Are their weaknesses in their argument? Is the experiment addressing a significant problem? Why or why not? 2. Briefly describe the experimental design. How does this design allow the authors to address the hypothesis(es)? a. Are there limitations to the design? If so, what are some of the limitations? 3. What are the results? How does each experiment address the hypotheses? Are there any experiments that don’t address the hypothesis, if so, what are they? Are their limitations to the data analysis? 4. Identify the conclusions? Are these conclusions justified? What are the limitations? a. Are there alternative interpretations of the results? Explain. 5. In the discussion, identify statements that are speculation/interpretation? Identify statements that are “fact”? How did you delineate between these two types of statements? Organization of your paper: You should begin your paper with a brief description of the paper (2-4 sentences), summarizing the main findings and purpose of the paper. At the end of your introductory paragraph you should state what the focus of your critique will be. Please do not simply summarize the entire paper—that is a summary, not a critical analysis. If you want to discuss the results, for example, discuss them in the context of the hypotheses and whether they actually support the hypothesis. Think critically about the results in the context of the paper. Make sure you elaborate on your critique—why is it a strength or weakness in the paper. Finally, remember to keep in mind the context of the paper—no single paper can do everything! This is not to say that you can’t make suggestions for additional or alternative tests, but do so judiciously. And when doing so ensure that you keep in mind the hypothesis that was being tested.
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