A Review Essay is a critical composition in which one or more texts are evaluated and explained, their key points summarised: so as to demonstrate that the author has thoroughly understood the material they cover. Hence the objective is to prove comprehension. Such essays are very common in undergraduate course. Usually “set reading” texts will be the subject of such review, enabling the tutor to assess students’ progress in apprehending key ideas.
Seeing as the subject material is prescribed, you do not need to do additional reading. This would be superfluous. Instead you want to keep a very close focus on the works set by the tutor. This exercise is deeper than it is broad. Here, you are trying to show in depth knowledge (particularly where only one text is in review), to exhibit analytical and critical faculties. Thus we are not engaged in a research project.
Where two or more texts are being reviewed, the tutor is expecting that you analytically compare them. This means synthesising key points. So, you might identify commonalities or divergences in the ways two different articles discuss a similar topic. Perhaps you perceive similarities of approach in the way two different subjects are addressed. Analysis means pulling something apart in order to see its individual parts and how they relate to each other. Do this for each of the articles concerned and then see how the components of one text relate to those of another.
Argumentation as Conversation
You need to have some kind of point in your Review Essay; it needs to have a clear direction, which each successive paragraph moves closer toward. In other words, you need to make an argument. This is essential to critical writing. Make sure you do not simply describe the articles without offering analyses. You are not writing synopses. You are proving your understanding: and a fundamental part of this is not taking the works at face value. Unpack the content. Examine it with an expository eye. The more critical you can be, the better your chance of scoring top marks is.
It may be useful at the beginning to write out a question (which your Review will then answer). By keeping this question in constant perspective, you are more likely to remain on point. This will work as a guiding light, pulling your argument in a consistent vantage.
If you are reviewing two texts or more, that guiding question may remain the same; however, you need to make account for its distinct application in each article. Consider that all the articles you are reviewing are in conversation with each other. How do they agree or disagree? What are cross-over points or principle divergences? Answering these questions is paramount.
Find a Theme
Ultimately, your Review Essay should identify some kind of common theme running through the various works. Your tutor will have assigned articles which encompass distinct commonalities of theme. They will be expecting you to find these, to discuss and dissect them. It is advisable to establish these themes at the outset of the paper. This will show the tutor immediately that you have closed in on the essential point of the articles. You should then progress to examine how this theme is engaged in the various texts, making recurrent reference to points in common (across the articles).
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