One of the issues that I have often encountered in my students writing is their ability to critically evaluate text. Everything written as a news report or a published article may not necessarily be valuable or considered a great piece of writing. As most students are not clear about what critical evaluation is, one can see the manifestation of the same in their own academic writing as well.
Critical evaluation will have some amount of descriptive writing. The descriptive writing gives the context providing the base. But if the text being written or read largely consists of descriptive writing only and does not have the elements of critical writing, it would not fall under the description of good academic writing.
Therefore, what should be kept in mind when critically evaluating a text?
Question of Method
is answered through What, When, Who, Where. These questions help you understand the main idea. Gives the context and introduces the topic.
What: What is the context? What is the point being made? What is it about?
When: When does it occur?
Who: Who is this about? Who might be interested in this? Who is the author?
Where: Where did this happen?
Question of Analysis
How, Why, What if, would help explore relationships and alternative responses in the text.
How: How does this work? How does it all connect together? How does one thing affect another?
Why: Why this suggestion/theory? Why not something else? Why did this occur?
What if: What if there is a problem? What if we are wrong? What if this factor was altered?
Question of Evaluation
would have So What, What Next, suggesting solutions, implications, conclusions and recommendations.
So what: So what are the implications? So what does this mean? Is this convincing? Why/Why not?
What next: It is transferable? What can be learnt from it? Where else can it be applied?
As you read academic texts written by the students or students read text for their internal assessment, two areas that you can apply evaluative skills is, the methodology and the discussion section.
In the methodology, you can evaluate why a certain sample size was selected, what decisions that the author has taken to answer their research question, what type of research was conducted. Whether a qualitative research or a quantitative research was planned and the benefits of that?
In the discussion, the author presents their point of view based on the data collected. What can be critically evaluated here is the claims that the author makes based on their research. If the claims being made are accurate? Does the data accurately substantiate that claim, can that claim be accepted because the data collected and analysed is widely represented and not restricted to one area and the claim being made is for a much broader area.
Look beyond what is being told. Question the claims being made. Evaluate the process that was deployed to gather the information. It is not about if the article is right or not, it is about how do you seek out the core of the message and critically evaluate it.