Jamie Baxter   Jamie Baxter
Associate Professor - UWO Geography

Critical Appraisal Form

GEOG 2152
GEOG 3432
GEOG 9108
GEOG 9300
Critical Appraisal
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Critical Appraisal Form (REVISED - Sept 2011)

Reading critically is an explicit goal of all of my courses. You should always think critically about whatever you read - even good pieces of research and writing: leave gaps, have biases, have questionable assumptions, and even include errors.

Suggestion: Print this form and use it to help you critically appraise papers/chapters you read in all courses. This form may help you to organize your thoughts when reading critically; it is a tool to assist critical appraisal. Nevertheless, single paper appraisals should be viewed as building blocks to larger literature reviews. The emphasis in this form is on logic, conceptualization, methodology, evidence, and contributions. It is important to focus less on retelling what is IN the paper and focus more on critical commentary. Critical commentary like the following is generally considered minimally useful: "The paper was well written with no grammatical errors"; "The authors write in a very interesting way and use graphs and tables to good effect"; "I liked this paper because the topic is fascinating".
Bibliographic Information:

  1. What is the purpose or research problem addressed by the paper? Does the author even state it? Is it a problem worthy of study?
  2. (e.g., "The purpose of this paper is to understand why people with a particular blood-sugar level are diagnosed with diabetes while others with the same blood-sugar levels are not. Thus, the problem is socially constructed medical diagnosis and the potential for wide ranging interventions for the same set of symptoms. This is a worthy problem for a number of reasons not the least of which is, as the authors state, the prevention of iatrogensis.")

  3. What is the logic of the author's main argument?
  4. (e.g., "The author attempts to show that the diagnosis of diabetes is largely a social construction. The author interviews doctors about their diagnostic techniques. Quotations from the doctors are meant to show that diagnosis is based on professional norms rather than scientific facts.")

  5. How are phenomena conceptualized (empirical papers mainly)? What (better) alternatives are there (cite related studies if possible)?
  6. (e.g., "Doctors are narrowly defined as physicians, and do not consider the host of other medical professionals who are invovled in the diagnosis and treatment of high blood sugar and diabetes. For example, Atwood (2001) studies nurse practitioners, and traditional healers...")

  7. What research method(s) and analytical procedures are used ? Is the methodological approach appropriate for the research question(s)? Are there alternatives that may have been more appropriate? Explain.
  8. (e.g.s, of Methods: face-to-face interviews, survey, secondary data - i.e., collected by others)
    (e.g.s of analytical procedures: geographic information systems, spatial statistics, descriptive statistics, mathematical/statistical models, content analysis of interview data) (i.e., Consider the fact that all methodologies provide limited data/information. What might a different approach - e.g., critical theory - informed discourse analysis; post-postivist regression analysis of a large population - produce as possible explanations. Depth versus breadth is one consideration. Rapport and difficult-to-reach populations might is another.)

  9. What is the main evidence in support of the main argument?
  10. (e.g., "The following 6 quotations from 3 different doctors seems to be the only direct evidence in support of the argument that diabetes diagnoses are socially constructed:..."

  11. Are you convinced of the validity of the author's main argument? Explain.
  12. (i.e., Is there enough evidence for the author to makes the claim(s) that s/he does? Did they find what they claimed to find or are there equally plausible alternative explanations of the "evidence"?)

  13. What gaps in the literature does this paper help fill (if any)?
  14. (e.g., "This paper is one of many recent research papers concerning the social construction of diagnosis (e.g., Pitalbo, 2006; Mir et al, 2003; Rasputin and Lenin, 2006). Though the methodology is somewhat novel because of the use of X, the overall effect is to provide few new insights into the problem of socially constructed medical diagnoses.)

  15. How would you rate this paper out of 10 with 1 being very poor and 10 being excellent?

(i.e., Compared to other papers you have read how good is this one? Even better, do some digging: "Nevertheless, the Social Sciences Citation index shows that this paper has been well received by the research community - with 20 citations between the Oct. 2006 releaseas and Sept. 2007; none of which involves negative commentary. This is an exceptional citation incidence in the social sciences for such a short period.")