How to Write an Article Review in Criminal Justice: A Comprehensive Guide for Students

Writing guide
Posted on April 23, 2020

Article reviews are among the most commonly assigned tasks in the discipline of criminal justice, for a variety of reasons. Just like normal essays, they help in both training and evaluating the writing skills and knowledge of students. They allow instructors to teach students how to read, analyze and evaluate works of other scholars, thus forming critical thinking skills and habits. In addition, they give professors an opportunity to direct the students’ reading – if one is assigned to review and analyze an article by an important authority in criminal justice, one is sure to read it carefully and pay attention.

Criminal justice attaches particular importance to article reviews because it is a discipline that pays such great attention to precedents. By studying, reviewing and analyzing texts referring to existing cases, court rulings and legal practices, students greatly deepen their understanding of the topic – which means that instructors are not going to stop using this type of work anytime soon. This guide will help you get through its most difficult aspects.

Pre-writing Stage: Preparing Your Review

Optimizing Your Topic

Sometimes, an instructor gives you an article to review. Sometimes you are free to write about whatever you like. One may think that the choice of topic in article reviews cannot go much further then selecting the text you are going to analyze, but it is not exactly true. While the choice of article determines what your review will be covering, it leaves you freedom of deciding how you are going to cover it. Will you evaluate the article in the general sense? Will you analyze the sources used by the author, looking for potential bias? Will you look for discrepancies in his reasoning? These are just some points of view from which you can analyze the text. Here are some examples of what you can end up with:

  • Doubtful Conclusions in Intention and Criminal Liability by B.T. Johnson;
  • Potential Bias in the Sources Used in Federal Responses to Police Misconduct by A.W. Hinnick;
  • Decriminalizing of Marijuana Possession by H.S. Laggerty: Conclusions and Their Validity;
  • Court Processing of Shoplifting by M.G. Crikey: Possible Alternative Interpretation;
  • Cybercrime and the Need for New Regulations by S.R. Hanlon: Pro et Contra.

Looking through the References

Go over the sources the author used when writing the article. Are you familiar with them and their authors? How authoritative are they in their fields? Have you read any of them? Knowing how many sources the author used and who wrote them will give you a much better initial understanding of what to expect from the text and how to treat it. Later, when you will be reading the article, take notice of which sources the author refers to most often – this will be another indication of how you should approach the analysis.

Considering What You Know about the Author

Do you know who the author is? Are you familiar with his/her other works? Is he/she an authority in his/her field? What is his/her h-index? Does he/she have any recognizable bias or agenda that can influence the direction the paper is likely to take?

Setting the Main Idea of the Article

Before you start writing, you have to read the article in question, preferably several times. Do not start writing after scanning the text – the first impression can be misleading, and the primary points of the article often turn out to be different from what you thought originally. Read the text slowly and carefully, highlighting the segments you deem to be most important. Write out keywords that can later help you remember crucial ideas from the article.

Knowing the Terminology

If the article uses any terms or expressions you are not familiar with, look them up in reliable criminological dictionaries or other sources of information you trust. Even if you are mostly sure what a word means, do not trust your intuition and check it out anyway. Do not write about anything you are not absolutely sure of.

Doing a Preliminary Analysis of the Article

After you get an initial impression of the article’s contents, its intended audience and the purpose it was written for, reread it at least once again, focusing on the following issues as you do:

  • Among the information presented by the author, separate the facts (i.e., statements that are indisputable and can be supported by verifiable sources) from opinions (i.e., statements that express the author’s views on the subject. They may or may not be supported by the evidence, but they should be arguable and have legitimate arguments against them);
  • Determine what are the author’s opinions. Express them in your own words. Evaluate how well he/she supports them (are all of them backed up with verifiable evidence?);
  • Look for gaps and omissions in the author’s information and logic. Does he/she omit information that can harm his/her argument? Is he/she prone to leaps of logic? Do all his/her conclusions naturally follow from their premises?
  • Do you see any examples of bias? Can you prove them?
  • Is the author’s argumentation persuasive in general?

Writing Stage

Write a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement expresses in one or two sentences the main idea of your paper, the same as in any other type of academic assignment. In an article review, your thesis statement is your argument about the article. In most cases, you should say whether you believe the author achieved his/her goal and what you think about the article’s value for the field of criminal justice in general. Does it add something? Does it come to important conclusions? Does it alter one’s perception of the discipline? In other words, your thesis statement is your opinion about the article in as few words as possible. It will help you focus your thoughts.

Cite the Article

An article review always starts with a complete citation of the article in question at the top of the page in an appropriate formatting style. If you did not receive instructions as to the style from your professor, ask him/her about it directly, because a mistake here can significantly harm your credibility and your grade.

Write the Introduction

The introduction is usually limited to the first few paragraphs of the review. It does not have to follow any specific structure, but should contain certain elements:

  • Your thesis statement (see above);
  • Background information about the author: who he/she is, what other important works he/she wrote, what authority he/she has in the field;
  • What you perceive to be the author’s purpose in writing the article;
  • Background information on the topic in question – what the reader needs to know about the subject to fully understand both the article and your critique;
  • Overview of the existing body of research on the subject (limited to the publications relevant for the topic in question).

Write the Body of Your Review

The body of the review should be arranged in the same way you arrange any other type of essay. Divide your points into paragraphs, dedicating a single paragraph to each point. Each paragraph, in turn, consists of the following:

  • Topic sentence, introducing the point and its relation to your argument as a whole;
  • Evidence, providing proof in favor of this point. You can use logical reasoning, quotations from the article under scrutiny, other works by the author or other relevant publications;
  • Conclusion (if the paragraph turns out to be too long and complicated) sums up what has been said in short.

Whether you agree or disagree with the author of the article, you should back your points with relevant evidence. If you have trouble refuting the article or proving your point in other way, it may be the sign that you did not do enough research or chose a wrong thesis.

Write the Conclusion

The conclusion should get back to your thesis and summarize your entire review, demonstrating that you managed to prove it. Express your final verdict on the article and, if necessary, propose additional research that can assist in the development of the field.

Post-Writing Stage: Adding Finishing Touches

Check the Organization of Your Review

Look through your review. Reread it, trying to imagine what it would be like to read it for the first time. Better yet, ask somebody you trust read it and express his/her opinion. Are you persuasive? Do the parts logically follow each other? Do your arguments add up to your conclusion? Is there a way to rearrange the fragments of your review so that it drives your point home more effectively? You may be too used to the way your review is currently organized to see how a change can help you – but such a change can often make your writing much better.

Check the Flow of Your Paper

The flow is an elusive concept that is hard to pin down or define. If there is something off about a sentence, then you have messed up your flow somewhere. Due to its nature, there are no clear-cut rules you can use to notice such problems – the best approximation to a check would be to read your review aloud. Even if the text looks alright on paper, when you pronounce it aloud it is much easier to notice awkward sentence structures and poorly expressed thoughts.

Check the Rhythm

One can sometimes hear the suggestion that the optimal length for a sentence in an academic text is 20-30 words. However, if you try to reduce all your sentences to this common denominator, the result will be monotonous and sleep-inducing. Instead, aim for randomness and try alternating longer and shorter sentences.

Check Grammar, Syntax and Spelling

We pile it all together because these are all mechanical aspects of your writing. Once you learn them, you can theoretically apply them in all your writing; in theory, all of us make mistakes, and everybody has a set of the most common mistakes he/she makes. If you know yourself to be prone to any particular blunders, create a list and reread your review several times, each time focusing on a particular type of errors. Do not fully trust automatic spell- and grammar-checkers like Grammarly. They can be of great help (especially if you are not very good at grammar), but they are still algorithms, and fairly limited algorithms at that. They fail to notice mistakes and see them where everything is alright just as often as they correct them.

Check the Text for Clarity

Are there any fragments in your review that can be misunderstood? Are you sure you used clear, specific and detailed language wherever possible? Was your proofreader able to understand all your points without additional clarifications? Remember, if something can be misunderstood, the readers are sure to do so.

Check for Superfluity

Are there any superfluous words, sentences or paragraphs in your review? When rereading your text, be very critical of it. Do not use five words where you can use one. Do not use a long word where a short will do. Do not use an element at all if it does not move your argument forward.

As criminal justice is a discipline that is heavily rooted in its polemical nature, writing an article review is both natural and challenging for its students. In addition to picking apart arguments of other writers, you should be ready for your own arguments to come under scrutiny. We hope that with the help of this guide you will be able to achieve this.

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