We critically appraise information constantly, formally or informally, to determine if something is going to be valuable for our purpose and whether we trust the content it provides.
In the context of a literature search, critical appraisal is the process of systematically evaluating and assessing the research you have found in order to determine its quality and validity. It is essential to evidence-based practice.
More formally, critical appraisal is a systematic evaluation of research papers in order to answer the following questions:
In research we commissioned in 2018, researchers told us that they define ‘high quality evidence’ by factors such as:
In other words, researchers use their own experience and expertise to assess quality.
However, students and early career researchers are unlikely to have built up that level of experience, and no matter how experienced a researcher is, there are certain times (for instance, when conducting a systematic review) when they will need to take a very close look at the validity of research articles.
There are checklists available to help with critical appraisal. The checklists outline the key questions to ask for a specific study design. Examples can be found in the Critical Appraisal section of this guide, and the Further Resources section.
You may also find it beneficial to discuss issues such as quality and reputation with:
The more you practice critical appraisal, the quicker and more confident you will become at it.