Notes on writing your paper critiques for the qualifying exam

An important part of the qualifying exam is to submit a critique for each paper that you have selected. The main purpose of the paper critiques is to evaluate your communication skills through writing. Below are a few notes that may help you to write a better paper critique. While it is ok for you to discuss with your advisor and/or your committee members if you have general questions about the paper critiques, the writing should be done independently by yourself.

The paper critique must conform to the following requirements:

You have to submit your paper critiques to your committee members at least TWO weeks before your actual exam date. You will fail your qualifying exam if you do not submit your paper critiques on time.

The goal of the critique is to review the paper and provide your point of view. As a general rule, you should try to help the reader to get your point of view as effectively as possible. The paper critiques should NOT be simple summaries of the paper. You should try to tell the reader your point of view succinctly and elaborate on them. Imagine that your scientific colleagues are very busy and have huge reading lists, so that you want to capture their attention with a succinct discourse. Another model is to imagine going back in time so that your paper is a review of the article for the editor of the journal that ultimately published the paper. They are also very busy and need a compact evaluation.

An example to use is the 3Ts format. The three Ts stand for:

For the first T, your job is to orient the reader towards what is coming. In a short paragraph, you describe in your own words, from your own point of view:

For the second T, you need to come up with arguments that support your evaluation. These comprise the largest part of the critique and should persuade the reader to line up with your overall judgment. The key element is that, the arguments must be logical propositions, not just feelings such as likes or dislikes or snap judgments. You can express that you like or dislike some parts of the paper, but you need to provide logical justification for it. Your arguments do not have to be exhaustive. Think of yourself as a trial lawyer in front of the jury (the committee): you just have to show the jury that one or two of the opposition’s arguments are false, and why your arguments are correct. The jury will then fill in that the rest.

After the arguments have been listed, you are ready for your third T. In the opening paragraph(s), your first T, you telegraphed the situation, but you could not be detailed, as you had not gotten to the arguments yet. In your third T, you revisit your point of view, but at this point you can present a more general, integrated, and broader review of the paper. For example, how it relates to your own research or general research in HCI.