How to Write a Critical Journal: Some Tips for University Students
How to Write a Critical Journal
A critical journal is a personal account of selected readings on a particular topic. University students are usually required to write critical journals as part of their course requirements. In critical journals, students critically engage with relevant readings and also provide their personal reflections. A critical journal comprises a few entries that make up a whole journal. There are no specific page or word limits. A standard entry may be four to five pages long. Suppose, if there are five entries in one journal, the critical journal would come to 20 to 25 pages. In the following I give some tips to write a good critical journal:
1. Read Your Readings
The first step in writing a critical journal is to go through the readings on which the journal will be written. It is advisable to read again and again until you clearly understand them. You may also want to take notes while you read. As students have to demonstrate their understanding of a topic, they will have to comprehend what the author(s) are trying to mean, argue, narrate, or describe. While evaluating your critical journals, lecturers will look for evidence of your understanding of the relevant topics.
2. Personalise Your Entries
While writing each of the entries, you need to personalise your writings to make your presence known. This means that you will write each of the entries in such a manner that your writings demonstrate competent engagement with relevant literature. Make your journal entries a unique piece of writing. Show your creativity by saying something new about the topic under discussion. It is better to take a position or stance and argue or explain your stance. In other words, you may agree and disagree with a particular point of view and explain your stance. Say if you like a particular reading and explain why you like it.
3. Develop a Consistent Structure
As is the case with most writings, critical journals also usually have an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion.
- Start each of your entries with an introduction. In the introduction, say what you are going to do. For instance, write “In this entry, I will review the three articles …”. Also, clarify your position in relation to the readings.
- In main body part of your entry, do what you promised to do in the introduction. In other words, describe, narrate and explain main ideas presented in readings. In addition, explain your position in relation to the main ideas presented in the readings. This is the place where you need to demonstrate your competent engagement with your readings. You may use quotes from readings to make a particular point clearer, but use them only when it is relevant and necessary. Remember that it is not enough just to repeat the ideas presented in your readings. Your lecturers expect you to demonstrate your own ideas, arguments, opinions in relation to the readings.
- In the conclusion, present a summary of main points, say what you have done, argued, narrated and how and why. Make some concluding remarks.
Make sure that you follow a consistent structure in all entries.
4. Apply Your Critical Thinking Ability
For successful writing, you would need to develop and apply your critical thinking ability in your journal. Try to figure out what assumptions are the authors bringing to their writings. Consider the following questions:
- Do you agree with them?
- Are there alternative explanations?
- Has the author given enough evidence in support of his/her claims?
- Is there evidence that supports or refutes the claims the author is trying to make?
5. Write in First Person
Since a critical journal is more of a personal account of selected readings, write your journal in the first person. This means your writing will be an “I” type write-up. For instance, I agree with the author ..., or I realise that..., I felt good when I read..., I was fascinated by reading... and so on.
6. Give References
At the end of your journal, give references of the readings. Your lecturer may sometimes appreciate your efforts to read one or two other relevant readings other than the ones you are asked to write a critical journal on. Reading more than recommended readings is less likely to be a requirement.
So good luck with your critical journal. Happy writing!