How to Write a Critical Essay without Hustle and Bustle
Critical thinking significantly expands educational and professional opportunities, as the ability to analyze, reason, and solve problem situations develops a person’s efficiency. It is impossible to become a professional without the ability to competently work with information, analyze information flows, highlight the main element, draw conclusions, and give your own assessment.
The psychologist and pedagogue Diane Halpern defines critical thinking as “the use of cognitive techniques and strategies that increase the possibility of obtaining the desired result.”
Critical thinking is the ability of a person to objectively assess personal thoughts as well as thoughts of others, and thoroughly and comprehensively check all the positions and conclusions. A person with a critical mindset never regards his or her own statements and judgments as absolutely true.
A person with good critical thinking skills:
- Understands the causal relationship between the facts and the ideas of the real world.
- Can determine the importance of arguments and ideas.
- Recognizes and evaluates other points of view, and builds strong arguments.
- Is able to identify inconsistencies and errors in the course of reasoning.
- Tries to solve the arising problems consistently and systematically.
- Reflects on the justification of beliefs, thoughts, and values.
For example, let’s say you need to critically analyze a book. As a critical reader, along with information about the plot, you will find answers to questions like:
- Has the author fully covered the topic?
- Are ideas presented in the book relevant or outdated?
- Does evidence seems credible? Has the author presented enough supporting examples?
- Is the text logically organized? Is the text easy to read and understand?
- Is the author experienced enough to make certain claims? Is there any hidden subtext?
- What opinions do other authors have on this topic? Does the author present innovative thoughts or adhere to mainstream ideas?
A critical essay involves critical thinking, reading, and writing. Writers should question all aspects of the read text and analyze what they have written. Critical writing will require the writer to critically assess the essay question, as well as support information with evidence, strong arguments, and an appropriate format and writing style.
What Is a Critical Essay
A critical essay is a kind of writing that requires the student to analyze and evaluate literary or scientific work (thesis, article, report). Critical writing involves thinking and analysis of a certain issue, evaluating the evidence and arguments provided in text, and presenting and proving conclusions with evidence. This kind of writing is more than descriptive – you need to take part in an academic debate and give strong arguments to support your own point of view.
An inseparable part of a critical essay is analysis. In many kinds of papers students are asked to analyze information, an event, or an object. For critical analysis you need to go beyond analysis and give your critical summary about the results of the analysis. The critical essay should contain a detailed analysis of the text, and appeal to its content and quality. You must specify the type of text and determine whether the author has achieved the task. Justify or refute the thesis: whether the author managed to entertain, educate, instruct, or inform his or her audience.
Critical essays always have an informative part. You have to present as much information as you can to allow your readers to make their own judgments and, at the same time, prepare them for a proper understanding of your own thoughts. Remember that a critical essay opposes the ideas and opinions of others by its nature. Therefore, your task is to analyze, raise questions, and offer alternative attitudes, points of view, and ideas.
For example, you can be assigned to critically evaluate a certain novel. That means that your aim is not to simply say that the novel is good or bad. You will likely need to discuss how the author has used literary techniques to present certain ideas. To write a critical essay on a novel, you need to provide an analysis of specific points (motifs, themes, symbols, etc.). Avoid the temptation to summarize the novel, as it will be a great mistake. The aim of a critical essay is not about summarizing; you need to discuss the ideas of the story. Analyze pieces of text and then support your analysis with quotes to support your point. This collaboration of your own ideas and quotes will work together to show the function of the story.
Step by Step Guide for a Critical Essay
There is no strict requirement for a particular order of steps – this guide is only a recommendation. For example, if you are stuck with writing an introduction or thesis statement, but feel strength to start writing a paragraph from the main body, there is no need to wait! As you write, your ideas or opinions may change and it’s OK. Just consider our recommendations and start to write.
Planning a Critical Essay
Before you start reading the text that you need to critically evaluate, you need to know how to work with the source.
Step 1. Read the assignment. It will be hard to produce a good essay if you will start writing it just after the first glance of the question. Circle the words that seem important and make a list of points that you should consider while reading and writing. Consider the terms that are used in the assignment and check the dictionary if you don’t understand any.
Step 2. Find the copy. Take an electronic or hard copy of text that you need to critically evaluate. It is advisable to take a printed copy, or an electronic copy where you can make notes directly near the text.
Step 3. Choose the aspect. You need to focus on one certain aspect that you will be discussing in your critical essay. If you were given a specific topic that asks you, for example, to analyze the character development in “Pride and Prejudice,” you will simply keep in mind this point while reading and evaluate your point of view on this issue. But if your instructor hasn’t given you a specific topic, you should be ready to narrow down with a specific aspect.
Step 4. Read the text to get a general idea. In order to produce an interesting essay, you need to think while reading. Many people don’t think when they read: are the author’s thoughts right? Critical reading involves noticing phrases and words, exploring precise implications, evaluating the context, and many other things. All ideas that you will find in the book should be carefully examined, and ask questions before accepting something as a truth. Highlight the high points, and bookmark pages where some questions have arisen.
In few sentences describe your impression, and make a small annotation. In the case of a voluminous work, read the individual chapters and describe your impression from each. If you need to read a long work, it makes sense to immediately make the necessary notes.
Step 5. Read the text once more. When you will be reading, pay attention to the details. If this is a scientific work, check the argumentation of the theses, and pay attention to the logical harmony, the completeness, and clarity of the presentation and other points. In the literature it is worth paying attention to the plot lines developed in the work, as well as the characters, the originality of the plot, and the presence of the climax.
Underline everything that puzzled you or upset you. Write down questions on the margins or in the notebook, and note down inaccuracies and weak and strong elements of the work. All this will help you with the further writing of the essay. Try to answer the following questions:
- What is the purpose?
- What is the author’s main point?
- What are the key words or major claims?
- What evidence and examples has the author used to support the claim?
- How has the author shown evidence of bias?
- What do you think about what you have read? Why do you think so?
- How can information that you have learned be connected to your knowledge and experience?
Step 6. Come up with the outline. Now, when you have read the text and conducted some rough research, you are able to generate an outline for the future paper. An outline is a detailed plan that will help you organize the information more effectively and keep in mind everything that you want to disclose in your text. The more details you will include in the plan, the easier the writing process will be.
The outline for a critical essay doesn’t have any restrictions, but there are some peculiarities that should be considered. If you are going to write a critical analysis, you need to describe the basic information about the work and describe your critical point of view on the subject. Within the body, you can choose from three patterns:
- Write the summary paragraph first, followed by the analysis paragraph.
- Alternate paragraphs with summary and analysis, so that each paragraph of the summary is followed with a critique and examples.
- Combine the summary and critique of each point within each paragraph of the main body.
Here is an example of a critical essay outline for the first pattern:
1.1. Background information about the analyzed work
1.2. List the author’s main ideas
1.3. Thesis statement (your own idea about the work)
2. Body paragraph I
2.1. Topic sentence (indicates what this paragraph is about)
2.2. Summary about the work
3. Body paragraph II
3.1. Topic sentence (indicates what this paragraph is about)
3.2. Critical analysis of the work
3.3. Supporting evidence
4.1. Restating the thesis statement
4.2. Summarizing main ideas
4.3. Finishing with the call to action (to give the reader a point to think about)
Writing a Critical Essay
Step 1. Write the introduction. Start your writing with engaging information closely related to the topic, or just an engaging sentence. From the very beginning, mention the author’s name and the title of the work in the introductory part. If you need to make a critical overview of a scientific work, it is recommended to note the scientist’s degree and the date of publication.
For literary work, tell some basic information about the topic and briefly describe the main issues raised in the book. In the case of scientific work, be sure to identify the purpose of the work, the main scientific statement, and the author’s arguments. When considering scientific work, describe the author’s experience and define the scientist’s level of authority.
In the case of literary work, pay attention to the writer’s experience. Be sure to note whether the author is a novice writer, or list his or her merits, if talking about an experienced writer. In the second case, compare his or her skills in the current and first works.
At the end of the introduction you need to write a thesis statement that will reflect the main idea of your work. In a critical essay, example introduction can look like this: “The Little Prince came into being in 1943 in America, where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry fled from Nazi-occupied France.”
Step 2. Write the body section. This part can be organized in various ways and totally depends on the topic. The important point of a critical essay is to make a summary of the text. But you need to keep a balance between descriptive and critical writing. You need to briefly outline the main ideas of the book, article, or film. For example, if you need to summarize a novel, you need to tell what the book is about, describe the setting, main characters, theme, symbols, motifs, etc. For scientific work, state the main point the author argues about, the essence of the research, and the author’s conclusions.
Try to be objective when doing your evaluation. Of course, everyone has their own feelings, but you have to put them aside, at least for a while – leave them for the last part of your essay. Also keep in mind that criticism is not about attacking the subject of your essay from different sides – it only means you have to use your critical thinking in your analysis.
In the analytical part, you need to critically state what points you like and don’t like. You shouldn’t just state the fact of your appreciation or dissatisfaction – explain your ideas with quotes and examples from the book. This part will likely involve a list of sub-arguments that will prove your main point.
When writing essays on fiction, focus on the problems revealed by the author, the construction of images, the disclosure of characters, the use of original artistic techniques, etc. Describe the most and least successful moments. Use the well-known literary techniques, write vividly, and use comparisons so the reader will be interested to read the original text.
When you will finish the body paragraphs, check yourself with the following questions:
- Have you critically stated your own point about the work?
- Have you explained the ideas with specific examples from other sources?
- Have you assessed whether the author has achieved the intended aim?
- Have you kept the balance between descriptive and critical writing?
Step 3. Proceed to the conclusion. Before you start writing the conclusion, put your work aside for a while and read it from the very beginning. This will help you reflect on the written text and make the right emphasis in the conclusion.
In a critical essay conclusion, describe your general opinion about the analyzed work. Do you agree with the author’s arguments? Suggest your solutions which you came up with during the reading of the materials: what can be improved or added.
Also indicate the significance of the work done by the author. If the author is a scientific worker, then his or her work should have some significance for further scientific research. The writer may have succeeded in revealing social problems, describing a new culture, or doing other meaningful work for society. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t give new arguments in the final part of the work.
For example, you can start the conclusion with advice: “This book is worth reading because …” or “This scientific work is significant because …”
The last sentence should be a call to action or an explanation of how the topic affects the reader.
Finishing a Critical Essay
Step 1. Revise your text. And finally, make sure your essay is well-organized. Each paragraph should present its own thought (except the first and the last ones, of course). Your audience should not find it hard to follow your thoughts while reading your essay. For this reason, it is recommended to take a little break after you complete your writing and then read it as if you’re a reader.
Answer the following questions to make sure that your text is great:
- Have you clearly stated the main point?
- Is your text readable? Will the reader understand what the text is about?
- Have you reached the aim of your essay?
- Have you used enough transitional words? Do the paragraphs smoothly follow each other?
- Does every paragraph relate to the thesis statement?
- Have you included enough evidence to support your arguments?
- Can the reader disagree with your points? Have you addressed the opposing arguments? What can be added to make your text more credible?
- Do you think your paper will inspire the reader to read the original work?
Step 2. Correct the mistakes. Mistakes can dramatically influence your grade, so make sure that you have corrected all typos, grammatical errors, and punctuation mistakes. Print out your paper – this will help to see the text from a new perspective. Also, make sure that you have properly formatted the text according to the instructor’s requirements.
Note: If you are required to submit the paper online or via email, make sure that you have used a document extension preferred by your tutor (.doc, .docx, .pdf, etc.).
Critical Analysis Essay Example
If you don’t understand how a finished essay should look, the quickest way to clear up your confusion is to read a critical essay example. It is important to understand the way of constructing the essay and to see the overall picture. Following is a critical analysis essay sample that shows an excerpt from a finished essay and comments made by our editor. The author offers a personal viewpoint on the subject, and as you read, pay close attention to how the writer interprets the issue. You can compare the author’s arguments to form your own position and write your own argument. As you read, underline the elements that you need to consider in your own essay and use this sample as a guide for your own critical essay. Circle the transitions, underline the examples that support the main point, and highlight topic sentences and main points.
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Critical Essay Tips
- Look for more than one source of information for each argument. If it is appropriate, insert a direct quote of the author.
- Make sure that you have kept the balance between the descriptive and critical parts of the essay.
- Don’t make statements without supporting them with relevant evidence and facts.
- Describe the selected text in general. In this way you can demonstrate that you have studied it to the smallest detail.
- Don’t criticize the text or another work from a subjective point of view.
- Make sure that your critical essay won’t raise suspicion that this is a continuous stream of negative criticism. Avoid excessive use of negative sentences and utterances.
- The basic elements that prove the correctness of your point of view are logic, deduction, and conclusion.
- Don’t forget about the reverse point of view, so try to analyze the issue from different sides.
- Make sure that you have correctly interpreted information from other sources and the meaning is not distorted.
- Adhere to the academic style of writing. Avoid slang, common language, and inappropriate abbreviations.
- Use direct quotes from other sources. Make sure that all links are relevant and up to date.
A good critical essay can be called so only when the author can bring powerful arguments in an accessible language. Logic, a reasoned position, and the research approach – this is the formula for the successful writing of a critical essay.
Learning to write critical essays will bring you benefits in the future! Along with improved grades and essay writing skills, you will improve your critical thinking skills, have a better understanding of complex issues in your field of science, and succeed in conversations that are important in your studies and at work.