Dr. Patrick Ryan

Critical Review Paper

Due: November 7 - submit through OWL

Length: 1000-1,200 words

Format and Style: All papers must be typed, double-spaced.  Please utilize footnotes using the Chicago/Turabian style.

You can access guidelines for Chicago/Turabian footnotes here.

A free version of Strunk & White, The Elements of Style provides sound writing advice.

Option A:  Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic: finance capital, slavery, and the philosophy of history (Duke University Press, 2005). 

This option is probably best for hard-working students with a strong interest in history, literature, and philosophy.  It also may be of interest to students in finance, economics, or accounting who are willing to examine those areas from a new perspective.  It is the most challenging and creative of the three works.

Option B: Geoffrey Samuel, A Short Introduction to the Common Law (Edward Elgar, 2013) in a comparative review with the course's textbook - Tamar Herzog's A Short History of European Law.  How are these books different or similar, why might it matter?  What are their comparative strengths and weaknesses; which is more persausive and why? 

Option B is recommended for those who are preparing for law school, or for students most interested in legal history and analysis.  The book focuses on the U.K., reads like a useful, concise, and comprehensive manual.

Option C:  James D. Schmidt, Industrial Violence and the Legal Origins of Child Labor (Cambridge University Press, 2010). 

This may be the most accessible of the three choices, and should appeal to a wide variety of students who are interested in social policy or the relationship between the welfare state, the law, and industrial capitalism.  Because the ordinary lives of children and families receive attention here, it may be more relevant than the other options for those pursuing interests in the helping professions (social work, counseling, education, medicine, etc.). 

General Instructions for writing "critical reviews"

A ‘critical review’ is not a book report.  Reports summarize contents, critical reviews analyze them.  To summarize is to repeat in a concise way;  to analyze is to explain what a text means or why it is constructed in such a way. 

Some students ask, ‘what am I looking for?’ 

Critical reviewers ‘look’ first to grasp the central argument of the book – its thesis and how it is developed and demonstrated. 

Then they ask themselves these types of questions:  Is this argument persuasive (why/why not)?  Is it important (why/why not)?  What assumptions drive this study?  What are the implications of this study?  Who is or should be its audience?  What might be its limitations?

Critical reviews come in all shapes and sizes, but they all make a claim about the work.  They do not simply repeat what the book says.  Typically, strong reviews do some combination of the following. 

(1) Sometimes critical reviews explain how arguments function by exposing their key terms or assumptions or ideas.  When this happens, the reader of the review leaves with an enhanced or deeper understanding of the arguments within the work, rather than simply a re-statement of them. 

(2) Sometimes critical reviews examine the consequences of holding an argument to be true by showing what is implied or at stake in the argument.  This allows one to better understand the political or policy significance of the claims made in an essay.  When this happens, the reader of the review gains a greater sense of the work’s significance.

Essay Comment Abbreviations:
*These are the ways I have traditionally marked papers (with pen in hand), and will attempt to approximate this system when reading your electronic submissions.  I am currently learning how to operate in this environment, and hope to be able to returned edited, marked, e-copies to you.

SP = spelling error

WC = a questionable word choice; meaning obscure

WW = wrong word

GR = major grammatical problems with the sentences

RD = Redundancy needs to be removed

AWK = awkward sentence structure or phrase

LFW = Logic Flow Weak - links between sentences are unclear or weak - point obscured

TR = transitional sentences needed to link paragraphs or sentences

= new paragraph, or better paragraph organization, needed

No Block = shorten quotation or remove block quotation

Space = what are these extra spaces or margins doing here?

Arrows indicate the position or area of the text where the comment applies

Q or QU = the question you are supposed to be answering; usually refers to a departure from it

EV = evidence needed to support point

CITE = citation needed for evidence

NO = you have made a significant factual error

? or Huh = what do you mean?; don't get what you're saying

EXG = you have exaggerated the facts or you need to qualify this point

|| = good point

 = excellent point

Evaluation Chart



Handling the Question


Meaning & Analysis

Errors of fact or grammar


insightful and penetrating

nuanced and delicate

fulsome & convincing throughout

brilliant, creative, or ingenious

free of errors; gracefully written


clear and concise, well developed

complete command of the issue or assignment

relevant throughout

excellent logical flow, completely persuasive 

crisply written


clear and complete 

basic understanding of the issue or assignment

all major points supported

only minor weaknesses in logical flow or interpretation

clearly written with no major blunders

D & F

not entirely comprehensible, or failing to deal with issue

lacks basic understanding of the issue or assignment

lacks evidence for major parts of the thesis

major misinterpretations, shallow or illogical claims

blunders or incoherence