Learning resource - Literature Review Medical Engineering, Third Year Research Project - Exploring Critical Analysis

In this learning resource you'll find exercises based on the 3rd year medical engineering literature reviews. The exercises are designed to help your explore what Dr Tina Choudhury means by 'critical analysis'.

FillGapsExercise 1 – Looking at the student’s work
Let’s look at two paragraphs from "The Development of a Cell System to modulate the expression of SUN2". They are in section 1.7 on page 15.

The two paragraphs are detailed below but some of the text has been removed and replaced with a text box. See if you can work out what text should replace the gaps by typing in the answer from the list below:


Work on mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that were seeded on poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA) constructs yielded data showing that initial extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition, remodelling and integrin expression profiles have an influence on osteogenesis. MAPK and PI3K signalling pathways were shown to be involved (Anup K. Kundu, 2009). differentiation is influenced by ‘master-regulatory’ genes and by a wide range of additional factors such as the tissue conditions surrounding cells.

the ECM can play a role in the differentiation of cells, , stimulating cell receptors. Biophysical properties of the ECM have been implicated in differentiation. Neuroblastoma differentiation, , involves morphological changes that have been considered to be linked to mechanotransductive signalling, and [is] sensitive to different ECM stiffness’s (Wilbur A Lam, 2010). Neuritogenesis was stimulated by a stiffer ECM environment, with different stiffness ECM microenvironments having different effects (Wilbur A Lam, 2010).

1) significant
2) Work like this demonstrates the complexity and variety of the conditions that influence differentiation, or conversely the maintenance of pluripotency.
3) which was previously identified as being retinoic acid-mediated
4) it has been established that
5) has been recently shown to be
6) work like this demonstrates that
7) previously thought to be limited to biochemical recognition of ECM ligands

Click here to see the answer



As you can see, the writer of the two paragraphs has made a good attempt at critically analysing the academic literature and he uses language to help to show this. For example, the text shows that he is evaluating what he has read, is aware of how changes have taken place in the field and is able to make comparisons between published studies. If the work is contradictory the writer justifies the new findings. However this report of the literature could be presented in more sophisticated way. Try the exercise below and see what you notice about difference in language and thinking between the two texts:

Exercise 3:  Comparing the student's work to Tina’s version

There are a number of differences to notice in Tina’s version:

  • When Tina makes a statement about ‘previous studies’ or what is ‘well established’, she backs this up with references. The reader can then check to see what these previous studies are. By giving the references Tina also clearly signals her expertise in the field.
  • As a result Tina’s text contains many more references than the student’s. These are consistently presented in the Harvard style.
  • Whilst the student’s text is 182 words long (not counting references), Tina’s is only 103. The same content is covered but much more concisely. She still uses plenty of ‘signalling’ language however. Exercise 3 helps you to see how she uses language to signal her critical analysis

On the left, are the student's paragraphs. This time the text has been split into separate sections. Next to each sentence is a version which Tina wrote. However, the sentences have been jumbled up. Can you match Tina's sentences with the student's?

Thinking Exercise 4 – Critical Analysis in Tina’s Text

Here’s Tina’s text in full. Take a look at the language she uses to signal ‘critical analysis’. Put your cursor over the highlighted phrases for an explantion of what the phrases contribute to the writing:

Previous studies demonstrate enhanced matrix synthesis and remodelling mediated via integrins signals in MSCs cultured in poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA) constructs  (Sun et al., 2007; Xin et al., 2007; Curran et al., 2009). The MAPK and PI3K signal transduction pathways were involved in the downstream process (Kundu, 2009). This data demonstrates that osteogenic differentiation was influenced by master-regulatory genes and by the model system used to examine the intracellular pathways. It is well established that the ECM plays a significant role in cell differentiation influenced by several cell surface receptors (Singahl et al., 2005; Olivares-Navarrete et al., 2011; Du et al., 2011).  However, the mechanical environment of the tissue will additionally influence stem cell differentiation. (Phillarisetti et al., 2011; Nguyen et al., 2011). For example, nueroblastoma differentiation was recently shown to be influenced by matrix stiffness and induced significant morphological changes and mechanotransduction events (Lam, 2010). This demonstrates the complexity of the biophysical environment which influences cell differentiation and pluripotency (Lozoya et al., 2011; Meyer EG, 2011; Daniels et al., 2010).