I am in talks with a PhD supervisor for admission to university who likes my profile but has given me an article to review. Although the article is related to my broader research area, there are some terminologies that I don't have proper background knowledge. I have read the article and have fair understanding of it. I have written a summary, problem statement, proposed solution and methodology in review format provided by supervisor but I am stuck at critical review section as I don't have proper background knowledge. I want to know how to go about in this case? How should I review this critically?

Any help would be appreciated.

  • Initially avoid thinking to review it critically. Just read the whole paper once. You will get the notion of the work. Then you can think of any critical suggestion you could give with consultation with your supervisor. – Coder May 14 '16 at 20:42

You have two main options here:

  1. Write the review. When does he expect it by? Do you have time to learn any of this background knowledge? If you do have time, I suggest you start by finding the sources that the article cites. This might help with the terminology and it will certainly help you place the article within the context of current research. You don't say what field/discipline you study, so I can't provide more detailed advice until you do.

  2. Tell him you don't have the background knowledge. This may sound like a bad idea, but if you start off an advisor/advisee relationship with dishonesty, you're heading for disaster. If you do a good job writing the review, he will assume that you have all that background knowledge and terminology. This will likely mean that you will be playing catch-up, trying to learn what he thinks you already know. If you tell him, be diplomatic. Show him what you've completed and point out specific terms and parts of the article that you're having difficulty with. Ask for books/articles that could help you write it.

If the references in the article don't help you and you are unwilling to tell him that you're having difficulties, I suggest contacting a professor that you know from undergrad.


This is really the whole point of the challenge the supervisor has presented you. I bet he was hoping to hit you with something that wouldn't exactly be easy for you. He's trying to get you to stretch a bit and get out of your comfort zone. I don't know what he intends by the review format that he gave you, but if you have any critiques, concerns, or other thoughts about this article, this is where you should put them. It almost doesn't even matter if you're right (almost), but you need to show him that you've thought about the article, that you can explain its implications, and that if there are things that worry you about it, that you can explain them.

If you are really stuck, it's probably worth looking through some of the articles that are cited by the article in question to give yourself some more background. This should also help you set the article in the context of some of the rest of the literature.

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