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Session 4

Academic Writing 7 – Criticism and evaluation

Welcome back to Academic Writing – the course with the tips and knowledge for top-class writing on your distance learning course. This time we're looking at how to be critical in your writing. 'Criticism' in an academic context means 'careful analysis of what other people have said or written and stating whether or not we agree with them – and why'. Are you ready to get critical?

Sessions in this unit

Session 4 score

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    Activity 1
  • 0 / 3
    Activity 2
  • 0 / 8
    Activity 3

Activity 3

Critical comments and evaluation

Another way to express your attitude to source material is to comment on it – especially if you think the material is weak or flawed. To do that, you'll need these phrases:

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Phrases like Writer X fails to... (followed by a verb) or This argument/idea does not consider... (followed by a noun) are useful for making critical comments about the limitations of sources; in other words, what they've left out.

Obington’s claim that, “IQ tests remain the most accurate and reliable means of measuring intelligence,” (2009; 20) lacks force, as he fails to define the term ‘intelligence’.

UNESCO’s (2012) report on the status of Canterbury Cathedral and precinct focuses on the immediate effects on the human and built environments; it does not consider the broader economic impact of a World Heritage Centre.

Opposing views

A good way to show a contrasting point about a source is by using the word however. This can be followed by a clause which shows an opposing point.

Solnit (2013) has suggested that recent problems with the European Arrest Warrant can be resolved in the British courts. However, it is clear that many of the issues around the European Arrest Warrant have arisen within the jurisdictions of other European states, and hence an international solution is needed.

Askew describes ‘holy minimalism’ as, “the most significant development in twentieth-century Christian music” (2015: 2). However, it could be argued that certain non-Christian composers, such as Yogo and Durzun, should also be included within the category of holy minimalism, and hence that holy minimalism cannot be regarded as a specifically Christian musical movement at all.


Another way to show a critique about a source is by using phrases like a further criticism of... or a further objection to... followed by the topic being discussed. These can be followed by a clause to show an opposing point.

Tomkins (2010) suggested that the boom in credit in the early 2000s caused a significant over-estimation of potential output; however, as we have seen, the impact of this boom was primarily on asset priced rather than spending. A further objection to this argument is that it fails to distinguish between the effects of debt on demand and its effects on the supply side. 

A further criticism of Leonto’s (1999) proposal for the funding of the British penal system is that it fails to take into account the social costs of crime, which are inevitably borne by local services (Frank 2011).

To do

Now that you've had a look at the language we use to make critical comments and evaluate sources, test your knowledge with this gap fill activity.

Complete the critical comments

8 Questions

Choose the correct words to complete these critical comments

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Top tips for critical writing

Let's review what we've learned about criticism and evaluation of source material in academic writing.

  • Use reporting verbs to introduce source material in your writing – and also to show your attitude towards the ideas expressed in this material.
  • Verbs like 'argue', 'maintain' and 'claim' are 'distancing verbs' – they help you refer to a writer's work without saying whether you agree with it.
  • Verbs like 'demonstrate' and 'show' are 'endorsing verbs' – use these when you want to show that you agree with a writer.
  • Other phrases can be used to distance yourself from a source – 'according to' followed by the name of the author of a source is one example.
  • Other phrases that can be used to endorse the ideas expressed in a source include 'as' followed by the writer's name plus an 'endorsing verb'.
  • To point out failings of sources, use phrases like 'fails to consider...' or 'does not take into account...' to show what's missing.

Find out more

That's it for now! Next time we'll be looking at an interesting aspect of distance learning: the language used on academic discussion forums. In the meantime, click Downloads button to get a free pdf worksheet with more activities on the language of critical writing.

Where next

Digital Literacy image link 2  GTD Academic Writing index link  OU AW image link 2

Session Vocabulary

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