How to critically review and write a dissertation?

By Ankita Agarwal on August 30, 2012

Dissertation writing is an important part of most post-graduation and doctorate programs. The dissertation is basic research that is intended to test the student’s ability to apply the theory to practice. The dissertations are mostly submitted at the end of the study program and therefore the student is expected to make the best use of the knowledge gained throughout the course syllabus. The dissertation is written into sections and sub-sections so as to make it easy to read and comprehend. Literature review forms an important part of the whole dissertation. Whatever subject-related data is gathered through different sources is presented under the literature review. Mostly it comprises the secondary data i.e. the data or the opinions of other experts on the dissertation topic originally collected for some purpose other than the current research. But a successful dissertation is not just discussing what others have written on the subject. An effective dissertation discusses as well as questions the views of the experts logically. This is referred to as the ‘critical review’.

Critical review of dissertation

It is easy to get confused between the critical review and the literature review. A few even misinterpret both these terms to be the same. While the literature review is a collection of facts and figures on the dissertation topic, the critical review is about questioning the reliability and feasibility of these facts and figures for the dissertation. Writing a critical review demands a thorough understanding of the literature review. The literature should not only be read but every piece of information should be logically analyzed. The views of a number of experts are gathered on the same topic or sub-head and all these views are then compared in the light of the objectives of the research. A critical review is basically a personal interpretation of the data. It is not just summarizing the data but also pointing out any weaknesses and contradictions. The difference between descriptive and critical review can be best explained through the following table:

Descriptive writing

Critical analytic writing

States what happened.Identifies its significance.
States what something is like.Evaluates strengths and weaknesses.
Lists details.Evaluates the relative significance of details.
States the order in which things happened.Makes reasoned judgement.
Says how to do something.Argues a case according to the evidence.
Explains what a theory says.Shows why something is relevant or suitable.
Notes the method used.Identifies whether it is appropriate or useful.
Says when something occurred.Identifies why the timing is important.
States the different components.Weighs up the importance of different component parts.
States options.Gives reasons for selecting options.
Source: Cottrell, S. (2003).The Study Skills Handbook. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p232.


The objectives of the research should be very clear in the mind of the writer while writing a critical review. This is because the literature review is mostly about the secondary data which has originally been collected in a different context. So the information may be correct but it may not fit the context of the research. The critical review identifies the significance of what is written under literature and evaluates it in detail. While writing the critical review, one should try to collect evidence in support or against every significant piece of information. This can be done by referring to the works of 4-5 authors or experts of the same area. For writing a good critical review it is important to collect relative information from different sources. This helps in gaining arguments for and against the literature.

Importance of critical review

A critical review provides a reason for everything. The statements and views are not simply stated as in literature but are also analyzed to judge why or why not these statements are significant for the objectives of the research. A critical review is judgmental writing and involves personal views supported by evidence. The reliability of evidence is very important hence the sources should be renowned and trusted. Writing a critical review is a bit difficult as compared to writing the literature. Critical review demands logical thinking and analytical capability on part of the writer and a good investment of time and sincere efforts.


2 thoughts on “How to critically review and write a dissertation?”