Skip to Main Content


Critical Evaluation (Adapted From: Hulme J.A. (2004) Critical Evaluation: A Student Guide. Psychology Review, 10:6-8.)

What is Critical Evaluation?

Critical evaluation is a process of assessing the relative merit of a piece of work, which may have been presented as a journal article, in a text book, on the internet, in a radio or television article, or in just about any other format (for academic purposes, this will usually be written, but could include seminar presentations). You are being asked to decide and discuss what is good, and what is bad, about the arguments being presented to you. Critical evaluation is not about picking fault, it is about deciding how useful and worthwhile the work, methodology and the arguments presented are; deciding how much the work has contributed to your understanding, or the world’s understanding, of a topic. The crucial word is “evaluate”––to measure the value of something. To see good examples of critical evaluation, try reading the introductions of some published articles in Psychology journals.


Remember to Ask Questions

A major part of critical evaluation is learning to ask questions of the text you are reading. At first, students tend to assume that just because something has been published, it must be true. This is understandable, but it is not the case, and is not a helpful way to approach your reading. Authors of papers and books are human, they make mistakes, they sometimes misunderstand or draw incorrect conclusions, and they often have their own agenda, which biases their opinions and thus the arguments they are making. To do well in academic work, you need to learn to spot problems like these. This gets easier with practice, and also if you read several texts on the same subject, as this will help you to notice inconsistencies and contradictions.


Critical Evaluation Summary

  • Critical evaluation is the skill of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of work, and of understanding the importance of its contribution to the subject.
  • It involves asking questions about the knowledge and motivations of the author.
  • It involves asking questions about the type of evidence used to support arguments, and about the logical basis of any conclusions reached.
  • It involves asking questions about the implications and contribution of this one piece of work to the subject you are reading about.
  • Finally, you need to reach a conclusion about the work you have evaluated––what can be learned from it? 

The 5W's of Evaluation

The 5 w's (whowhatwherewhen, and why) are the questions that journalists use to quickly gather the facts to understand a complete story. 

Use these same questions to get the whole story on your sources- if you are unsure about the answers to these questions when applied to your sources, then you should consider searching again. 

Who? What? Where? When? Why?

Who created the information?

-Do they have the education, experience, expertise to write about this topic effectively?

Whom was this information created for- children, general audiences, scholars, professionals in the field, etc? 

-Is this an appropriate level for the your research? 

What is the content of the information?

-Are the conclusions of the author supported by evidence in the form of citations, footnotes, a bibliography or other references?

What do other authors say about the same topic?

  • How does the information in this source compare to the conclusions and evidence of other authors?

Where is the information published or available? 

-Does the publisher have any political or financial affiliations that may impact the way authors report their research?

-Where does the money for research originate?

When was the information created? 

-Have any significant events occurred that impact the conclusions of the information?

-Were new studies conducted on the same topic since this information was published, how do the conclusions compare? 

For web content: when was the information last updated?

Why was the information created? 

-Is the purpose of the information to inform, entertain, convince, or sell something to the reader?

-Do the authors appear to have any biases or other motivations for creating the information?

Is my source scholarly? (University of Illinois Library)

For questions or feedback contact the McQuade Library
Call us: 978-837-5177 | Text us:  978-228-2275 | Email us: