Dr. Patrick Ryan

Instructions for Bluebond-Langner Review

Assignment:  Write a 3-page, or 900 word critical review of Myra Bluebond-Langner's The Private Worlds of Dying Children (Princeton UP).

Due Date:  Monday March 6, 9:30 AM - Submission Through OWL

It is impractical to offer email consultations on your essays.  If you need assistance, please visit me in DL 127 12:30-1:30pm M, T, or Th.  No appointment needed. 

Format and Style: All papers must be typed, double-spaced.  Please utilize footnotes or endnotes, rather than parathetical references.  We prefer MLA Handbook 8th Edition.  Consult this online, free and legal version of Strunk & White, The Elements of Style for advice on the effective use of English.

You can access MLA guidelines in many ways.  Here are two helpful links

MLA Footnotote forms

MLA Vid-cast Series

What is a 'Critical Review'?

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. 

How do I start? 

First - attempt to understand the book on its own terms.  Ask yourself what is being argued, and how is this argument developed and demonstrated?   

Second – ask yourself ‘critical’ (not negative) questions about the book: 
-Is this argument persuasive (why/why not)? 
-Is it important (why/why not)? 
-What assumptions drive the 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