Summarising or critiquing a journal article is a common assignment for a student completing a course in psychology, regardless of the level. It is an important skill to master early on, as it will be encountered repeatedly. If you continue in the field of psychology, this skill will enhance your own research abilities, helping you tell the good research from the bad. Sometimes you'll be asked to summarise an article so that you have a condensed version of the details of the piece; more often, a summary will require you to also make some form of critique.
Choose an article to review. If your instructor or professor has not provided a specific article for you to review, then you must choose one on your own. You can do this by searching your school library for journals in the area of psychology that interests you most. One of the most common journal indexes for searching for articles in the field is PyscINFO, which contains abstracts and references that will help guide you to an appropriate article.
Read the article that you have selected or been assigned at least three times. At first you may just skim the article and read the abstract, introduction and discussion sections to get a general overview of the study. Read the paper again in its entirety, paying attention to the methods and results sections. Finally, read the paper a third time with an eye for asking questions about what the researchers have or have not done. Consider alternative explanations for the results from those provided by the authors of the article.
Create an outline for your review/summary. As with all papers, creating an outline will help to keep your writing focused and organised. Your outline might include the following headings: Study Rationale, Hypotheses, Method, Sample, Results, Major Findings, and Critique.
Summarise the key points of the study. In the rationale section, summarise the purpose for the study, why the researchers thought it was important and how they felt it would add to the existing literature on the subject. If the study included hypotheses, list the precise hypotheses that were stated in the paper. The summary of the review should identify the type of research design (experiment, correlational study, observational study), and contain a brief statement about how the study was conducted. Provide information about the sample characteristics, including the number of participants (or observations), their basic demographics, and how they were recruited into the study. The results section should briefly summarise the results based on the original hypotheses presented. Finally, summarise the major findings of the study.
Critique the research question, design, analysis and conclusions as the final part of your review. Did the researchers ask the right question? Did they use the right type of research design and method to address the question that they asked? Would a different research design have lead to different (or better) results? Did the researchers use the proper kind of data analysis to address the data and research questions presented in the paper? Are there strengths and weaknesses to the data analysis approach they used? Did they properly pay attention to the assumptions associated with the data analysis they performed? Finally, did they draw the same conclusions from their results that you would draw? Was there anything they misinterpreted, underinterpreted or overinterpreted? What is your overall impression of the paper and how does it contribute to the literature?
If you get to choose the article yourself, pick one that you find interesting, as this will make it easier for you to engage with the article and provide a thoughtful critique.
Avoid simply paraphrasing the article.