If you do a thorough close reading of your text (taking notes, writing things in the margins, highlighting key points, looking up things in the dictionary, etc.), then you will start to develop opinions about the text, and you will obviously have reasons for these opinions. In the most basic sense, the reasons you have for forming your opinion is the criteria you are using to form your evaluation.
Criteria are systems or standards for evaluation, rules or tests we use to make a judgment. We use criteria all the time. Take the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) rating system, for example: films are assigned ratings of G, PG, PG-13, etc., by an MPAA board based on specific criteria (violence, language, adult themes, sexual content, etc.).
In many college courses, students are asked to evaluate texts based on more or less predetermined criteria. For an example, an essay test question that asks you to critique a novel based on its depiction of women and children within the given historical contexts more or less has created criteria for you. If you decided instead to evaluate this novel based on some other criteria, your teacher might be interested in your reading, but he might also be disappointed in your response, especially given that it was a question on a test.
More often than not though (and probably for your purposes here), writers choose their own criteria to the extent that they are appropriate for the text being critiqued. Suggesting that an article in an academic source is “bad” because it goes into too much detail, is written for a specialized audience, and doesn’t include any glossy pictures would be unfair, because, as I discussed in some detail in chapter one, “Thinking Critically About Research,” these criteria are not usually part of the goals or purposes of academic articles. The same could be true of an article you found in a popular magazine. Suggesting it was “bad” because it seemed directed at too general of an audience and it simplified certain details about the topic would be unfair as well.
So, if there are no definite standard criteria to consider in a critique, how do you come up with criteria? Well, most of the questions suggested in chapter one on testing the credibility and reliability of your evidence might be used as criteria for your critique:
- Who wrote the text and what are their qualifications?
- What do you think motivated the writer to write the text?
- Is the information in the text accurate and specific?
- Has the author interpreted the material fairly?
- Has the author defined terms clearly?
- Does the writer seem to support her point with good research and reasoning?
- Where was the text published?
- When was it published?
Take a look at a text you will potentially critique. If you’ve already done a close reading of a text for your critique, be sure to use the text you used for that exercise. Either individually or collaboratively, come up with a list of possible criteria for critiquing the text. List as many criteria as you can, keeping in mind that you will certainly not be considering all of the criteria you come up with in your critique essay. On a sheet of paper or in a word processing file, create two columns. List the possible criteria in one column. In the other column, note the parts of the text that you think of as support for your criteria. Here’s a sample of a few entries:
|Written by an expert||Speer in Marquette Poli/Sci department.|
|Supports ideas logically section, etc.||Throughout, in the reference|
|From a respected, credible and current source||Crime, Law, and Social Change
academic source; article published in 2000
Working individually or collaboratively, come up with a list of criteria that you think would NOT apply to the text you are considering for your critique. What sorts of possible criteria seem not fitting with the piece your are considering for your critique?