Starting A Journal Article Critique Group

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Building a strong research culture can be difficult if your department is some way from that goal, especially if there isn't a budget for research activity. One of the best ways to get started is also one with no cost other than time: starting a journal article critique group.

Sometimes called a “journal club,” this is a group that meets regularly to talk about a specific published study in your field in a somewhat informal atmosphere. It’s not a class, it’s a discussion group, a bit like a book club in format but with an academic purpose and focus.

Usually groups focus on one journal article at a time, with one member of the group coordinating the discussion. This role can be fixed or may rotate. Group members can be academic staff only, or you may want to include research students. Indeed, involving research students tends to be a great idea, as typically they have more time to read recent literature and can help staff stay up to date.

Meetings should be short (30 minutes to an hour) and can be held over breakfast, lunch or coffee. The general idea is that all group members will receive the article in advance, read it, and come armed with ideas about the study described, ready to engage in debate and discussion. You may want to prepare and distribute a guide on ways to standardise your critique, such as a set of core questions participants can make notes on.

Typical areas to discuss include:

  1. Do the research question and methodology match?
  2. Do the research question and any theoretical model used work well together?
  3. Was the literature review current and sufficient?
  4. Are there any issues with the methodology or sample?
  5. Were the ethical framework and procedures strong enough?
  6. Are the stated results supported by the evidence?
  7. Were the authors clear about study limitations and areas where further research are needed?
  8. Does the research raise new questions?
  9. Are the results significant—and if so, what might they mean for further research, practice or policy?

It’s important to make sure the critique group stays interesting, so ask members to nominate specific journal articles or research areas they would like to look at, and rotate the focus if needed to keep everyone engaged. Use turn-taking techniques to ensure that everyone involved feels their ideas have been listened to.

Often journal article critique groups focus on brand-new studies, but sometimes it can be particularly valuable to look at an older, foundational study in your field. This can give rise to reappraisal of theories and positions that are taken for granted or may have been almost forgotten, or better understanding of how and why the field has moved on.

Spend a few minutes at the end of each session talking about how the article just critiqued could be used in your own department’s research, as part of a literature review, as either a negative or positive example of how to do research, or as a springboard to a new research proposal. 

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