Reviewing a scholarly paper

Why review a scholarly paper?

Reading other people’s research is essential to academic life. Writing a research paper or a book is always partly the result of extensive reading of what others have written. One’s own bit of work has to be situated in current research. This means that your work must build on what other people have done before you in your academic field and say clearly how it relates to existing research: are you following in the footsteps of someone else and taking their conclusions further? Are you providing a corrective to previous research on the topic? Are you introducing a novel way of looking at the topic? Are you squarely going against the mainline view in the academic community? The answers to these questions enable you to present the originality of your own research. But you can only do these things if you are quite clear about how other people working in the same research field situate their own work in that field. In other words, coming up with an original research project is bound up with your ability to assess the originality of other people’s work.

What should I do when I write my review?

The heart of your paper should be devoted to presenting the paper’s argument

The most important part of your review is to present the scholar’s argument in their paper.  This means that you should answer as many of the following questions as the paper allows: Which points are made? Which research project do they serve? Which research questions are asked and how are they answered?

Whenever possible also try to write a few lines to answer the following questions about the originality of the paper as a piece of research

    • Does the author allude to existing research on his/her topic? How does he/she situate his/her own work in his/her academic field? (In order to answer these questions you may want to ask whether he/she draws further or refutes someone else’s argument or whether he/she touches on entirely new questions.)
    • What methodology or approach has been chosen by the author? Is it innovative compared to what others have done in the field?

Not all papers will give you adequate information on these things, but when they do, it is  always useful to make yourself and others aware of how original or innovative the paper is.

At the end of your review you should attempt to offer a few personal reflections about the paper

  • ,What is this paper useful for? Does it link up with your own thoughts? To what extent can you use the paper to deepen your own reflection? Conversely, what do you see as the limits of the paper?
  • Is there anything you find particularly striking in the paper? Why?