A critical analysis (sometimes called a critique, critical summary, or book review) is a systematic analysis of an idea, text, or piece of literature that discusses its validity and evaluates its worth. A critical analysis usually includes a summary–a concise restatement of what a text says–and an evaluation–how well it says it. A critical analysis in literature, for example, might examine the style, tone, or rhetorical appeals of a text, while an analysis of a scientific paper might examine the methodology, accuracy, and relevance of the research.
A good critique will consider the following questions
- Who is the author, and what are his/her qualifications?
- What is the nature of the work (type, purpose, intended audience)?
- What is its significance? How does it compare to other material on the same subject? By the same author?
- What is the author's thesis?
- What is the organizational plan or method? Is it well conceived? Does it achieve the author's objectives?
- What are the underlying assumptions? Are they stated or do they lurk behind a stance of neutrality and objectivity?
- How do assumptions and biases affect the validity of the piece?
- Are arguments/statements supported by evidence? Is the evidence relevant? Sufficient?
- Is the author's methodology sound?
- What evidence or ideas has the author failed to consider?
- Are the author's judgments and conclusions valid?
- What rhetorical strategies does the author use? Are they effective?
A word about the thesis statement
Remember that no matter what format you follow in writing your critical analysis, it should have a thesis statement that establishes your approach to or opinion about the piece. Your thesis statement will not be the same as the original author's thesis statement. For example, say that the original author's thesis statement is “the moon is made of green cheese.” Your own thesis might be “the author's assertion that the moon is made of green cheese is ill-founded and is not supported with adequate evidence.”
Organizing the Critical Analysis
There are many models for writing a critical analysis. Some disciplines recommend breaking an analysis into two sections: The first section provides a summary of the content of the work, while the second section analyzes and evaluates the work. Other disciplines, in contrast, favor a model in which the summary and analysis are smoothly integrated. See the reverse side for two serviceable (if unembellished) formats for a critical analysis. Also, remember that length can vary from a paragraph to several pages.
Sample Critical Analysis — Two-Part Structure
In “Nature Cannot be Fooled,” [title] originally published in 1998 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, [date and source] Washington University Professor Jonathan Katz[author name and descriptor] contends [active verb] that American Society denies reality, living instead as if its “wished-for fictions” were “true” [paraphrase (and partial quotation) of author's thesis]. Katz further [transition] argues[active verb] that this distorted view of reality manifests itself in many negative ways—from public health policy to education. [list of key ideas]
(Note that the evaluative terms are bold-faced for the purposes of illustration only.)
Unfortunately, Katz fails to support his argument. His commentary relies onfallacies, unsupported claims, and opinions rather than on logical statements, supported claims, and facts. Therefore, even though Katz expresses much passion, he fails to offer a persuasive argument. [Use your own thesis statement to provide an organizational plan for the paper.]
The body paragraphs should analyze particular components of the work. For instance, in an analysis of the Katz commentary, the body would offer specific illustrations of the flawed passages in Katz's commentary; these illustrations would support the analytical claims that you are making about the work. The focus, then, is objective analysis, not subjective response.
The conclusion may restate the author's thesis, but the main purpose of the conclusion should be to emphasize your assessment of the writer's work.
Sample Critical Analysis — Integrated Model
One technique for integrating a summary and an evaluation is simply to merge the two separate sections (like the examples above) into a single introductory paragraph. Another technique is to synthesize the summary and evaluative comments, as in the following sample introduction:
In 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” for an audience of literary scholars of his own day. Thus, the essay can pose some difficulties for modern readers, who may not be familiar with literary history or the specific critics to whom Tolkien refers. In addition, Tolkien's diction is formal and quite dense. Nevertheless, he offers a persuasive and masterful defense of Beowulf, one of England's most beloved works. [Our thesis] Tolkien argues that Beowulf scholars are wrong to mine the poem solely for historic evidence about the Anglo-Saxon period, rather than reading it as a great and inspiring work of literature. [Tolkien's thesis] Although he agrees that its historical value is high, he shows that Beowulf is so powerful as a poem that its literary qualities far outshine its historical value.
Teresa Sweeney & Fran Hooker Webster University Writing Center, 2005
Content of this article
- How to write a critical essay
- Preparation process
- Finalizing an essay
- How to choose topic for a critical writing
1. How To Write A Critical Essay
A critical essay seeks to provide an analysis or interpretation of either a book, a piece of art or a film. A critical essay is not the same as a review because unlike a review, it encompasses an academic purpose or goal. Students should not just aim at reviewing a book or a film, but should have an argument and include scholarly observations within their essay. Contrary to popular belief by a significant portion of students, critical essay writing is not about criticizing or focusing on the negative aspect of analysis. It is possible to have a critical essay which supports an idea or an author’s or director’s view regarding a particular theme. A critical essay is thus an objective analysis of a particular subject whose aim is to analyze the strengths or weaknesses of text, art, or a film. The above is of great importance, especially to students who think that critical essays are supposed to focus on the negative aspects of a subject.
The goal or purpose of a critical essay is to provide readers with an explanation or an interpretation of a specific idea or concept that an author, a painter or director included in their work. Additionally, writers can be asked to situate a certain theme in a book or film within a broader context. Essentially, critical essay writing involves weighing up the consistency of an author or director in trying to convey a particular message to their audience. It is thus vital to be keen and observant and note the different feelings as well as emotions conjured within a text, a film, or a painting. Writing a critical paper or criticizing might seem easy at first, but it can also be challenging.
Some of the purposes of a critical essay writing are as shown below:
- Provide an objective account of an author’s, director’s or painter’s work.
- Analyze the consistency of an author’s work in presenting their ideas.
- Assess the consistency of an author’s work in maintaining and supporting their main argument or idea.
- Present the strengths as well as weaknesses of an article.
- Criticize the work of an author or a painter.
2. Preparation For Writing
Step 1: Understand the requirements
Students are often at fault for starting their essays without clearly understanding the instructor’s requirements. Instead of starting an essay immediately after reading the requirements, it is wise to seek any clarification from the teacher.
Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the primary source
The primary source is the book, film, or painting a student has been asked to write a critical essay about. Here, students are always advised to be careful and note everything within the source for purposes of making their essay better. If asked to write a particular book, film, or painting, students should read the book more than once, watch the film more than once, or look at the painting from different perspectives to understand the underlying themes.
Step 3: Take notes when reading/watching/assessing the primary source
Note taking is also vital to identifying the different patterns and problems within a text, film, or painting. While reading the text, or watching the movie, it is important to note the important concepts and ideas that an author or director or painter decided to incorporate within their work. The important points or aspects can indeed be overwhelming, and it is thus essential to ensure none will skip or escape the writer’s mind.
Step 4: Identify the main problems or patterns within a text, movie or art
After reviewing a text, or watching a movie or keenly analyzing a piece of art and taking notes, the next step is to identify the main problems or patterns that emerge from the notes. While noting the important aspects, certain issues or points are bound to emerge and stand out. Students thus need to be keen and identify these patterns and problems.
Step 5: Find solutions to the identified problems and patterns
The next thing after this is to try and find solutions for the identified problems and patterns. At this point, the writer should be developing their thesis statement and have their perspective clearly outlined.
3. Performing Research
Critical Essay writing is heavily dependent on how much research an individual does. In some instances, students make the mistake of depending on their primary source to write their critical essay. Unless otherwise specified by the instructor, it is always advisable to find other sources to help expand and increase the essay’s depth in content. Secondary sources help to increase an essay’s credibility and thus if needed should always be included.
Finding the right sources can be a problem and students often find themselves at fault for using unreliable sources. It is important to find genuine sources which offer reliable and accurate information lest one’s essay is filled with lies and inaccurate information. Just like how one is advised to take notes while reading or watching the primary source, it is also essential to take notes while going through the secondary sources. The notes help to determine or find patterns and points of correlation between the primary and secondary source. Understanding the relationship or the connection between the primary and secondary source is key to writing a decent critical essay. Below are some criterions for choosing the right secondary source:
- Assess the timeliness of the source, that is, how current is the material.
- Accuracy of the information. How reliable is the information within the source.
- Coverage or relevance to the topic under study. Assess whether the material is of any importance or adds any value to the topic.
- Evaluate the source of the information, that is, the author, painter, or director’s credibility.
- Examine the objectivity or purpose of the information presented within a source. Here one assesses the possible bias within a text.
4. Critical Essay Structure
All essays follow a particular standard or format which includes an introduction, body, and a conclusion. These parts must be included in an essay to be termed as complete. However, before tackling these sections, it is important first to develop an outline for a critical essay. Critical essay outlining is essential because it provides students with a step by step guide to developing their essay.
If, for example, the topic under study is “the use of ethnic music by mainstream musicians” the outline should be as shown below:
The Use of Ethnic Music by Mainstream Musicians
– Explain how music keeps changing.
– Provide a brief description of the use of ethnic music in mainstream music.
– Pick an artist and explain why their music is of interest in this paper.
– Assess the change in music production of the artist.
– Provide an analysis of how the artist has managed to use ethnic music.
– Include the reception of the music of the above artist and how fans find his music.
– Restate the argument or thesis statement while also mentioning why the focus was narrowed to the specified artist and their music.
– Provide a summary of the main points.
Writing a Critical Essay Introduction
An introduction provides a description of the topic under study. While some students like providing a lot of information in the introduction, it is advisable to be brief and direct. An introduction should be specific and short but usher in the readers into the topic under study. Readers should be able to determine the writer’s focus or perspective without much fuss or without the need of reading deep into a text. Background information is indeed of the essence, and it is thus important to include some information which will help readers to understand the entire essay.
Writing a Thesis Statement for a Critical Essay
A thesis statement reveals the main focus of the essay. Readers need to know the writer’s focus and hence the importance of a thesis statement. On many occasions, students often have flat and simple thesis statements which even though is not against any rules only help to reveal the lack of imagination or research involved. A thesis statement should be argumentative and provide readers with an assurance that they will indeed enjoy what they are reading.
Below are some tips to writing a good thesis statement:
- Always include it in the introduction. A thesis statement should be provided early in the essay.
- Avoid ambiguity and be as clear as possible.
- Cliché sentence structures should be avoided. For example, “The main point of this paper is…” or “The focus of this article will be…”
- Be specific and narrow down the statement’s scope.
- Be original.
Writing a Critical Essay Body
While writing an essay, each sentence in the body should communicate its point. The above is almost a cliché, but it is indeed crucial to being a good critical essay writer. Each paragraph should support the thesis statement by including a claim or an argument and following it up with supporting evidence or sentences. Unless otherwise stated, critical essays should have three to six paragraphs and each of these is supposed to have five to six sentences.
Writing a Critical Essay Conclusion
A critical essay conclusion is not any different to other essay conclusions. When writing a conclusion for a critical essay, one should reiterate their stance or main argument followed by the main supporting arguments or points. Only a summary is needed here, and hence writers are asked to be brief and only include what is necessary. Readers should feel directly linked or impacted by the topic under study. An essay should leave the readers with the need or urge of finding out more about a topic.
5. Finalizing Essay
Once the paper is complete, it is essential to revise, proofread, choose a captivating title, and make appropriate citations. Revising an assignment is important because it helps to clarify the main point as well as ensures the readers’ needs are met. Having a purpose is indeed essential to writing a decent critical essay and it is important to outline it clearly. Proofreading helps one to correct grammatical errors and maintain their stance throughout their essay.
A reader’s interest is always enticed from the title and developing one is indeed an important aspect of an essay. Citations are also of the essence and help to avoid issues of plagiarism. Paraphrasing, and in-text citations should hence be taken seriously, lest a student’s work graded poorly.
6. How to choose topic for a critical analysis
Choosing a topic can be a challenge. Writers are, however, often advised to select a topic that they are familiar with and that will gift them with enough information to write the entire essay.
Below are some examples of critical essay topics:
- Examine the literary and cultural context of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
- Examine the use of satire in John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight Show.
- How accurate is the assertion that satirical news shows offer people more credible news than some news channels?
- How is the movie 21 Jump Street accurate in its depiction of high school life?
- How does the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre horror film use the aspect of suspense to create horror?
- What makes/made comedy series such as The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and How I met Your Mother popular?
- What unique features did the directors of The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and How I met Your Mother include that made their shows standout?
- Video games contribute to a significant reduction in attention span of both children and adults.
- Adoption of children by gay couples.
- How does exposure to violent videos impact the temperament of young children?
- How is fashion a central part of a person’s identity?
- Analyze the role of women characters in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
- Examine the cultural and historical accuracy of the TV series Merlin.
- How does the director and producer of Merlin make use humor throughout the TV series?
- Examine how well the Game of Thrones books have been adapted into the TV series Game of Thrones.