Guidelines for Abstracts and Critiques
in Social Work and Related Disciplines

Developed by Dr. Barbara White, Gallaudet University Department of Social Work


The purpose of writing an abstract and/or a critique is to allow a reader to survey the contents of an article without actually having read the article. It serves to give an overview to the reader, who can then decide whether to read the entire article or not. The difference between the abstract and the critique is that the critique includes your professional opinion while the abstract does not.


The abstract allows you an opportunity to practice writing a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the article read and also the opportunity to survey the professional literature in social work and related fields. This may be important later on when you are preparing professional articles for publication since most journal editors require an abstract along with the article, or for preparing a thesis or dissertation.

The abstract needs to be readable, well organized, brief, and free of too many details. The lead sentence needs to be informative and define what the article is about.

The abstract should include the author's main points including: the topic of problem under study, the purpose of the study or article, and the author's recommendations. If the article is based on empirical research, include the number of subjects and their demographic characteristics, the research design and data gathering procedures and the conclusions. Be as concise as possible.

Abstracts should be proofread, and grammatically correct. You may find an editor who can check your work before handing it in, or use the services of English Center. Note: see the handout on how to avoid plagiarism, which is a serious offense and unethical and can result in not passing the course.


The critique is your professional judgment of an article. Avoid personal opinions and experiences. The critique should answer the questions below:

  1. How did the article come across to you as a reader? Is it written clearly and well organized?
  2. Who is the intended audience?
  3. Does the article clearly define its purpose? If a research based article, does it present its findings well?
  4. Is the writer sensitive to racial and cultural diversity and is the language culturally and ethnically sensitive?
  5. How does the article relate to social work and the person-in-environment perspective?
  6. How does the article help a typical social worker in practice?


Sample Abstract and Critique

Name of Student

White, B. (1997). Permanency planning for deaf children: Considerations of culture and language. Arete, 21 (2), 13-23.

Sample Abstract

This article addresses the cultural and language needs of deaf children when social workers consider out of home placements for them. Recognizing the scarcity of professional social workers fluent in American Sign Language and knowledgeable about deaf people and their culture, the author presents the two paradigms of deafness -- the clinical/medical model and the cultural model. The clinical/medical model has been the dominant view in American Society as well as in social work, but the cultural paradigm has gained recognition in the last several decades. Social workers needs to become sensitive to the cultural aspects of the Deaf community, familiar with the research on deaf children in the child welfare system, deaf parents as caregivers and the literature on deaf children of deaf as well as hearing parents. The author presents the defining characteristics of deaf culture, which include values, shared attitudes and experiences, norms, intermarriage rates, formal organizational structures, material culture, symbols, and literature and art. Finally, the article includes a section on the experiences of deaf adoptive parents, based on the literature that is available on this subject. The article emphasizes the need for social workers to shift their focus from the deaf child's deficit (hearing loss) to a strengths perspective, and utilize deaf parents as a resource for deaf children in permanency planning decisions.

Sample Critique

Although the article is theoretical in nature and not based on an empirical study, it is well referenced. The writer presents useful and well organized information on deaf culture to an audience of mostly hearing social workers who are not familiar with deaf people and their culture. The purpose is not as clearly defined in the beginning and the reader needs to look for it, but there is clearly important information in the article about the permanency planning issues involving deaf children and the need to recognize their status as a sociolinguistic minority. The person-in-environment perspective is clearly evident as the emphasis is on the child's surrounding environment and culture. The "goodness of fit" concept is reflected in the author's call for the profession to view the deaf child holistically and match deaf children with deaf parents who understand their needs. Social work practitioners will find the article informative, even if somewhat biased.