Reviewing a Non-Research Paper

Video description: Reviewing a Non-Research Paper

There are lots of specific criteria to be used when critiquing and reviewing a non- research paper.


The first thing you might want to consider as you’re reviewing on the research paper is accuracy:

  1. Is the information in this paper accurate?
  2. Is it supported by the literature?

Sometimes authors write a paper where they have mixed up the difference between opinion and fact. It’s fine in the paper to write your opinion, but you must be clear that you’re writing about your opinion. You can’t present your opinion as fact.

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We’re looking for in a review the accuracy of facts and the distinction between opinions and accurate facts:

Intended audience

You should be very clear of who the intended audience is for the journal and be sure that this paper in this content is a right match. When you read the paper, you want to be sure that information is clearly and accurately referenced:

Is the right attribution given to who’s ever work is being cited whoever’s previous work may have guided this paper?


Next, in critiquing you’ll look at what scientists call balance. That is a balance on both sides of an issue. It’s helpful if readers could really be presented pros and cons on an issue. If you write a paper that’s only one-sided, it may be at higher risk for rejection because you really not help the reader to sort out what is the other side of the issue.

Think about the balance as you’re reviewing the paper. Teachers don’t want papers that have an undue biased approach and aren’t really grounded in the literature.


Clarity is the next criteria that you want to consider when reviewing a paper.

  1. Is this paper easy to read?
  2. Can you follow it?
  3. Can you understand the author’s writing?
  4. Is it clear what they’re trying to say?

If your struggle to follow it, there’s something wrong with that paper.


Is the paper well-written? Editors will help with some aspects of the writing, but it has to be well enough written that you as the reader and as the reviewer can really follow what the author is trying to tell you.


The next criterion is content.

  1. Is thecontent accurate?
  2. Is it written at a level appropriate for the targeted audience?

For example, if you’re writing a clinical paper about heart failure intended for an advanced practice nursing audience, there’s no reason in the paper to include a section on the anatomy and physiology of a heart. The reader already knows that information. The content has to be appropriate for the target audience, for their level of knowledge.

Depth and Scope

Depth and scope of coverage are other criteria to consider in reviewing a paper.

  1. Is this topic covered at adequate depth?
  2. Is it too superficial?

For instance, a student once wrote of paper with a faculty member and the paper was rejected. When she came to the professor and showed the paper, it was clear, why it was rejected. The paper tried to cover four topics instead of just having a focus on one topic. Each of the four topics was covered in a very superficial way which was not appropriate for the intended audience which was an advanced practiced audience.

Be sure you have adequate depth and scope of coverage for your topic that matches the needs of the intended audience.

Figures and Tables

Journal articles really should include figures and tables to break up the text, to help summarize key points, and to help the reader really see a synopsis of important information. As you’re reviewing the paper look at those tables and figures:

  1. Are they accurate?
  2. Do they make sense?
  3. Are they clear?
  4. Are they well-labeled?


Organization of the paper is another criterion. The information should flow logically. You shouldn’t come as a reader in a review struggle to follow what the author’s thinking is. The paper should be broken up into headings, and that may also help with the organization.

If headings aren’t there, as a reviewer, you may suggest a few headings but make comment on the organization of the paper. If you find that it’s disorganized or the topics are covered in an inappropriate flow, make a suggestion to the author of how that organization could be improved.


Papers need to cite primary references. A common problem with papers, particularly those that have been written by students, is that they cite secondary sources. For journal authors, we must cite the primary source, not a secondary source when citing other people’s work. Be sure that the references are appropriate, that they’re current, that there is an adequate number of up-to-date references.

Certainly, there might be classic papers that are older that are referenced, and that’s fine. But teachers sometimes get papers where there’s no reference within the past five to ten years. Those papers are at risk of being rejected because the worry is they’re just not up-to-date information that’s being provided to the reader.


Suitability is another criterion to consider when reviewing a paper:

Is this paper really appropriate for this intended audience and appropriate for this journal?

For example, consider the work of editors in the Journal of professional nursing. The target audience and the focus of the journal is nursing education, baccalaureate, and graduate degree in education. When the editor receives clinically focused papers on the care of the patient with diabetes care, of the patient after coronary artery bypass grafting surgery, they’re totally not suitable for the journal, they’re rejected right out, even if they’re the best paper. It is based on the fact that they’re not relevant for that journal. They’re just not suitable; they’re not a match.