Reading Critically: Questions to Consider

  • What is the essay’s main focus, argument, or question?
    • In peer review: If you as a reader can’t identify it, help the author to articulate that main focus more clearly.
  • What does the paper do especially well? What examples or analytical moves best help move the paper forward?
  • Are there parts of the paper that are confusing?
    • In peer review: Ask the author to talk out her ideas and see if you can help get them down on paper more clearly.
  • Do all the sections of the paper make sense together, or are there places where the author seems to go on a tangent? Does the paper arrive at a more complex, more interesting place than it started? Does every paragraph build on what comes before?
    • In peer review: Ask the author to talk through his intentions about structure and movement, and see if you can help him develop a plan for a clearer structure.
  •  How well are the paper’s assertions supported with specific textual evidence? Are there unsupported assertions? What evidence might be incorporated to support them? How clear is it that the evidence means what the author says it means?
    • In peer review: Identify any places where assertions need more specific support or where the author has not explained the significance of her evidence.
  • Examine the introduction. Does it lead the reader logically and directly into the paper? Does it avoid cliché?
    • In peer review: How might it be strengthened?
  •  How well does the conclusion tie things together? Does it do more than simply restate the introduction? How might the author conclude more effectively?
  •  Has the author properly cited all quoted, paraphrased, and summarized material either in footnotes or in parenthetical citations accompanied by a bibliography?
  • In peer review: What concerns does the author have? See if you can address them.

[With thanks to Dr. Lynda Yankaskas, History Department]