Water and Waste Treatment

Water and Waste Treatment, Physical-Chemical ProcessesCritical Review of Literature Article

In writing the summary of your selected research article try to take the role of a peer reviewer who is asked by a journal editor for an opinion regarding the suitability of the manuscript for publication.  This activity is the nearly universal basis for ensuring that only technically sound material shows up in the scholarly scientific literature.  In the context of this assignment it provides a useful format for writing your research review.  Additionally, it is useful preparation should you be asked to review a manuscript in the future.  The suggested activities for you to undertake, the elements to include in your reviewand the reasoning behind this approach are described below.

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Activities in preparation for writing the review

1.Read the article carefully and take careful notes to help distill the main points of the article.

2.After being sure you understand the article (probably after reading it several times, and possibly after reading related works), decide upon your recommendation to the editor regarding the paper:

a.Recommend for publication as is

b.Recommend for publication, with minor revisions, no re-review necessary

c.Recommend for publication, with major revisions, re-review necessary

d.Decline for publication

3.In making the above decision you might consider the following:

a.Were the objectives of the authors clear?  If not, why not?  Was it that the objectives were not stated but the authors obviouslyhad clear objectives (a minor revision) or was it that there were no clear objectives behind the research (a major concern)?

b.Were the objectives worthwhile?  If yes, why?  If not (a major concern) why not?

c.Were the objectives obtained?  If not, why not, and to what extent was this lack a problem?  Consider experimental design, methods, and analysis.

d.Were the conclusions valid given the research conducted?  If not, why not?

e.How significant is the work to advancing the field of environmental engineering?This assessment will likely require you to read one or more of the papers referenced in the paper you have selected to help understand the significance of the contribution that your article provides to the field.

Format requirements

To put all the critical reviews on an equal basis you must adhere to the following format requirements:

  1. 3 pages maximum (not including any references)
  2. 1.5 line spacing, 12 point font, Times or Times New Roman.

Organization/content suggestions

1.Begin with a very briefsummary (a paragraph) that indicates that you understand the objectives and overall approach of the authors. This summary can be as simple as “The authors stated objectiveswere to …” followed by a summary of the main approaches taken such as “A series ofexperiments were conducted to accomplish these objectives…” Describe the experimental techniques and matrix briefly and summarize the main conclusions.

2.Introduce the points you need to make to rationalize your recommendation to the editor.  These points may involvepraise or criticism.  Develop each of the points in a paragraph style as follows:

a.State the criticism

b.Give example(s)

c.Explain why what was done is wrong

d.Suggest any improvement, if possible

e.State the importance of the criticism

3.In writing yourcritique, your own objectives must be crystal clear both in your own mind and in your writing.  You have to state and support, clearly, what you disagreed with in the article.

4.Your objective is not to summarize the article, it is to make a determination about its “worthiness for publication” and support that determination strongly but concisely.

5.When presenting your points, make clear distinctions between your work (i.e., your thoughts, analysis, comments) and the authors’ work.  Use language such as “theauthors state or “the authors developed…, and “I think, based on … that….”  It is entirely acceptable to use the first person when you are writing a critique.  You do not have to use first person as long as you can make a distinction between your thoughtsand those of the authors.

Rationale for this approach to writing a critical review

1.The authors and editor (the judge) will be most likely to respond favorably (i.e., either by the authors improving the article or the editor rejecting it) if you are clear.  It is not the job of the authors or the editor to decipher convoluted arguments from reviewers.  If your arguments are not clear, concise, and well supported, they will be dismissed.

2.Taking the direct approach described above ensures that your own thoughts are sound.  Being as direct and concise as possible often leads to identification of errors or imprecision in your own thought processes.

3.The articles that you are reading have all already gone through the peer-review process and thus, in theory, should all be sound.  However, that is not the reality of publications.  When a reviewer recommends publication with no revisions the review will be shorter and easier to write.  Obviously, the burden of proof lies on the person being critical.  Sometimes (often?) bad papers slip effortlessly through the review system because it is easier for reviewers to go with the flow than to provide a solid basis for either constructive criticism or rejection.  If you have found a genuinely good article (and there are many), I still urge you to go through the above process—only focus on providing the rationale for your praise rather than your criticism


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