How to Write an Article Review

What follows is an approach to writing an effective article review.  The methods described have helped many people to write effective and persuasive reviews on a large variety of subjects.  This article is extremely condensed and is designed to be a solid outline for performing research and producing high quality research writing.


Writing Article Reviews does not have to be Scary


Article reviews, like book reports, need not be as intimidating as many people think they are that is, if you have read the article that you intend to review.  Keep in mind, however, that producing an article review needs to follow certain standards which, if you are not used to them, can appear exacting.  But, with a little time and effort, you can command the process.


If you take note and follow these steps, then you will find your writing and analysis will become progressively easier.  Not only that, but along the way you will modify the method or even create your own that works for you.  And what works for you is decidedly worth sharing with others.


First things First

Prior to writing your article review you will want to ensure that you have the following items within reach because you will be stopping to make notes frequently.  Have a notepad, whether it is the computer kind, or the paper kind won’t make a difference, although you may find having a paper notepad to be helpful; and this means having a pen or pencil handy.  Also, have a highlighter to save you time later as you review the article.  Finally, you will want to have some flag notes to mark pages for review.  These tools will enable you to gather data efficiently.

Data Gathering: Preparation is Everything


It is important to start from the top down, and for this reason take note of the title and thoroughly read the abstract if there is one.  The title is the author’s topic, of course, but the abstract provides a quick orientation as to the lay of the article. The abstract contains the key points that your review article will address.  Using the way points provided in the abstract will help you to keep focus and take relevant notes.


Perform a quick run-through of the article.  At this point you are not diving deep, you just want to have a quick glance through the entire piece to see how it is put together; think of it as reconnaissance.  Of course, you are liable to spot intriguing passages or references along the way – use your highlighter and sticky notes to mark these spots.


At this point take a short break to allow what you have skimmed to sink in a bit.  This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, simply take a few minutes to relax before you start your in-depth reading.  Once back at your research read carefully and deliberately, take notes and make us of your marking tools.  As you read, keep the following questions in mind, “is the author, or authors, supporting the tenets of the article?  Why or why not?”


The reason for this exercise is to maintain focus on the topic and to keep a critical eye on the article you are reading.  This will spur you to make notes which are relevant and helpful.  And the notes you make at this point will constitute a primary source for your research references.  Your notes should reference passages or ideas that have caught your eye, keep track of pages and paragraphs when taking notes.


A further suggestion for research note taking is to briefly describe to yourself why something caught you eye or gave you pause.  Does this idea remind you of something else you have seen or read?  Make note of any titles or authors that come to mind.  It could be that someone has come to an opposite conclusion on this very subject, or that there’s a tangential support of the topic via a work or study that has nothing to do with the field of research at all.


Referencing other avenues of information as they pertain to the subject at hand can be a powerful way to support your theme when it comes time to write your review.  Keep in mind that these sources can be primary, if drawn upon in the article you are researching, or secondary otherwise.  Not that you will necessarily have to include these details in your article review, but it is important to be able to differentiate.


Developing a Topic


Once your deep dive is finished, reflect on what you have read and write down your thoughts.  This is the point where you begin to develop the theme, or thesis of your article review.  Consider how the article contributed to its purported area of study.  Free association is a good technique for this exercise as the subject matter is fresh in your mind.


Include your notes once you are done with the first impressions.  The notes you have taken and the pages you have flagged and highlighted will all have something in common; so, if you were struggling for a topic, or even if you already had a topic in mind, this exercise is an excellent way to weigh and consider the approach of your article review.


Remember that the topic itself will either contain the conclusion or at least provide a hint as to what is to be derived from the Article Review.  Start, then, with your conclusion.  Ask yourself if the conclusion is tenable or persuasive – look back to your sources for guidance and discuss the subject with others.  While others may disagree with your analysis this does not mean you have misunderstood your subject, it may just be a difference of opinion.


However, fomenting controversy simply for the sake of controversy is sophomoric and not advised; it will enlighten nothing and lose its punch instantly.  You know when you have landed on your topic when you are interested in what you want to discuss, and your research notes provide the meat to back up your assertions.  Enthusiasm equals interesting, readers will know if the subject doesn’t interest you.  Now is the time to start assembling the puzzle.


The Outline


The outline is a type of roadmap.  It provides you with certain way-points where you will implement various ideas pertinent to your topic.  The outline, then does not need to be in stone.  Use it as a guide and change it as needed.  After all, writing is a creative process and as you write your article review, new ideas will undoubtedly occur to you.


As mentioned, your conclusion is present throughout your article review, from abstract to final sentence.  Therefore, your outline is not all that difficult to produce, or to change on the fly for that matter.  It has been said that a good speaker follows a simple formula, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”  A research article is no different.  In fact, your outline has essentially three components:


  1. The main point.
  2. The supporting points (multiple paragraphs).
  3. The conclusion.

Another way to look at the outline for an article review may be helpful.  Instead of a mechanical schematic, consider the following approach as you produce your outline:


  1. What do I want to say?
  2. How do I want to say it?
  3. What is my point?


A different angle can sometimes prove beneficial.  Use this approach to give yourself a broader view of the project.  It is here that references can begin to be placed.


The Foundation is Established


There should know be a solid foundation on which you can develop your article review.  All that up-front work may have seemed to some to be draconian, but here is where it pays off.  By organizing your thoughts in this way, you have saved a considerable amount of time in your production.


An article review is just like any other project that needs to be managed, taking the time to plan at the beginning means less rework and confusion during the process.  Like many professional project managers lament, “there is never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over.”  You will thank yourself for the extra steps, though a bit onerous at first.  You will produce higher quality work in a shorter period if you take the time.


The Basics: The Paragraph

The paragraph is your lever and now that you have a coherent outline to work with, you can string together your paragraphs in ascending order of persuasiveness, the next one building upon the previous one.

First, the introductory paragraph establishes the tenor of the article review.  Here, you can recycle your conclusion as stated in the abstract – maybe even modify it a bit.  The first paragraph is no place for a quote but if you feel that you absolutely need one, make sure it is short and concise.

As for using quotations in general, a good rule of thumb to consider is that they should be used in the middle of the paragraph or later.  In analytical writing, the first couple of sentences of the paragraph are generally reserved for the topic sentence; quotations provide support for the topic of the paragraph.  However, like all rules when it comes to writing, this can be broken if the quote is the topic.  The topic of your paragraph supports the broader topic of your article review.

Think about paragraphs as the structural support of analytical writing.  A well written paragraph is like a well-built structure, there is a logical progression in its design.  So, for paragraphs, the flow should be smooth, supporting the topic in a direct and cogent way.

Concentrate on building good paragraph structure.  To do this look at the structure of the article you are analyzing and look at still more others.  Following the lead of powerful writers is an effective way to become one yourself.  Solid writing demands respect from your readers, whereas hastily and sloppily designed writing tells your audience that you do not care.  Care.

Finally, consider the basic structure of a powerful paragraph.  The core of the message is in the middle of it.  This is where you present your findings to make your point.  But before you get to your point you need to introduce it.  That is, provide some information as to how this point relates to the broader picture and, tangentially, to the next concept.  The last sentence or two in your paragraph provide a transition to the next idea on your topic.

Your basic paragraph, then, can be defined like this:

  1. Topic sentences. These are the introduction to your main point of this paragraph.
  2. Middle sentences to provide evidence or rationale: This is where you provide supporting documentation such as quotes from your research. Always provide references for information that is not directly synthesized by you.  Citations are demanded here – we will discuss citation strategy shortly.
  3. Closing sentences to begin transition: Describe the relation to the larger subject and begin the transition to the next idea.

The Arc of the Essay

The article review, like any other essay, has an arc.  We discussed the “Tell them what you are going to tell them” idea and that is an important contributing facet.  The arc of the essay however is really weighted toward the end.  Save your strangest ideas for the latter part of the article and then reconstruct what was said previously into a paragraph or two that close out the analysis and arrives right back at the conclusion.

Cite or Die

Citing a source that you use to support your thesis is of vital importance in analytical writing.  Failing to provide citations will, at the very minimum, nullify your efforts.  The most profound punishment of failure to properly cite is the charge of plagiarism.  Once accused of plagiarism, one’s reputation is blemished for good.  Many people have ruined their careers, or their education, by being too lazy or too greedy to cite the ideas they used.  And citing a source is not difficult, so avoiding the practice is pure laziness.  The good thing about the citation process is that it is easy to get the hang of and there are plenty of helpful sources available.

For academic and research papers, the preferred citation method comes from the American Psychological Association, the APA.  Hence, this style is called APA for both overall aesthetic of the paper and, more importantly, the citation method. See here for an excellent overview of APA Methodology.

The APA method is respected for its quick reference format and, ultimately, its ease of use.  The APA standard relies on “in text” citation. For instance OWL, the Perdue Online Writing Lab shows how to cite a “Webpage or piece of online content”  (Perdue University, 2021, 05), “Reference List: Electronic Sources”, Perdue Online Writing Lab, Reference List: Electronic Sources // Purdue Writing Lab).

But there are more avenues of citation that are important to understand not simply the in-text citation method, but also the various reference list methods.  Depending on the nature of the source used, a different format will be required.

But do not despair.  Learning a citation method is like learning anything else, once you have done it a few times you will have the confidence you need to develop your citation lists with ease.  When people think of the challenges involved in academic writing, the biggest hurdle always seems to be in the method of citation.  Your approach to understanding when and how to properly cite a source will ultimately determine your success when authoring your article review.

Keep this information nearby for the first few reviews that you undertake and, in short order you will find you are referencing it less and less as you progress on your journey.  Best wishes for a great article review.

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