A critical essay provides interpretation and analysis of a set text, piece of music, a painting, or play. It must be written with an academic purpose; it often proposes a sound argument. Although frequently confused with a review, a critical essay is more similar to a formal essay. It should incorporate scholarly observations, with all facts correctly referenced.
Steps for Writing a Critical Essay
- A text, film, piece of music, or play must be selected by the instructor or student. No matter what you choose to write your critical essay on, you must ensure you are fully informed about it before writing an essay on it.
- Relevant material from which references can be drawn must be sought. Journals, books, articles, and online material are suitable, as long as the references are scholarly, not popular.
- Notes must be written about the text in question, and an argument must be constructed. A stand must be taken by the writer in favor of a particular view.
- The body, in the form of three or more paragraphs, must be written first. Each paragraph must discuss one point that supports the argument.
- A conclusion is written next, summing up the points, summarizing the argument, and giving a one-sentence closing.
- The introduction is written last to make sure it presents the argument clearly. It must contain a strong thesis statement that also sums up the argument.
- The finished essay must be read a number of times, corrected, edited, and finally proofed for errors.
Critical Essay Topics
- Doping in the Olympics
- Impact of videogames to children
- Changing gender roles
- Impact of technology
- Factors leading to juvenile delinquency
- How to avoid recidivism?
- Wonders of the ancient world
- Ways of managing inflation
- Importance of entrepreneurship
Key Points to Consider
- An argument can be based on the qualities of the text in question. Thought must be given to the kinds of readers or audiences to whom the writing might be addressed by the author of the set text.
- A critical essay must examine the text, question it, and evaluate it. The writer must state what kind of text it is, and whether it achieves the aims of its author. That is, does it entertain, does it educate, does it instruct, or does it inform?
- A suitable combination of main and secondary points must be used in the three or more body paragraphs, which contain the central thrust of the essay. Ideas, notions, and concepts taken from the initial set of notes must be reworked to produce an argument.
- Rhetorical questions must not be used, since they are a weak and predictable way to form an argument, and truisms must be avoided. Making a point using the findings of an authoritative author is always best.
- Persuasive techniques must be used in an effective manner to argue the value or lack of value of the text. The most common techniques are to appeal to emotion, to evidence, and facts supported by citations. These techniques must adhere to a discipline, such as logic.
- A critical essay does not merely accept the decisions and opinions of others, however. It must question, analyze, and propose alternative views, options, and attitudes.
One style to use when writing a critical essay is the claim and evidence style. The writer must make a number of claims about the set text, or anything else you have chosen to examine. These claims are then supported by evidence found in other texts, which are used as references.
Another effective style is the new information method. Here, the writer provides fresh research which has not yet been used by others to discuss the given subject.
Examination and exploration is a style that looks into the fine details of a text or piece of art, and explores all the possible motivations, inspirations, and reasons the creator of the text or piece of art might have had during the creative process.
Do and Don’t
- Avoid driving a point home too strongly. It is enough to support your claims with evidence without strong language or repetition.
- An effective critical essay must appeal to the reader’s sentiments, but not in an overstated fashion.
- Avoid making points that are mere opinions.
- Make sure your language matches the argument style.
- Do not omit direct quotes from relevant texts. Ensure all your references are up-to-date and appropriate to the subject and theme.
- Avoid using too many negative sentences. A critical essay can be just as positive as any other piece of writing: analysis, interpretation, and questioning need not be negative.
- Avoid presenting facts and data, but omitting a clear and well thought-out thesis argument. Make a logical outline or plan, and keep to it.
A well-written critical essay is one where the writer has made a clear argument in flawless language. Logic, sound reasoning, and an investigative attitude are always seen by examiners as foundations for a well-organized discussion about a set text.
Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic critical essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our critical essay samples to link theory with practice.
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Samples for Writing a Critical Essay
Is It Ever Too Late to Study?
Changing Gender Roles
Hello, my name is Robin Banerjee and I'm a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Sussex. I teach many first year, second year and third year students so if you come into the Psychology department I'm sure I'll see lots of you while you're here. Today I'm going to be talking a little bit about guidelines for writing essays. Now I'm sure that when you've got essays to write you'll find lots of different instructions to follow for the different assignments that you've got, and of course you'll have to pay attention to them. But what I'm going to give you today are some helpful guidelines which I hope will be useful to you as you set about the task of writing an essay.
1. Come up with a clear line of argument
Well, my first guideline for writing an essay is to make sure that you have a clear line of argument. If the essay title is in the form of a question -- this might seem obvious -- answer the question. Although it seems like an obvious point, I've read many essays where student simply don't answer the question. They'll talk about lots of things that relate to the question but they don't actually give you an answer to the question. So if the title is in the form of a question, make sure you answer the question. And even if the essay title isn't in the form of a question, make sure that you have something clear that you want to say. Don't just talk in general terms about the subject area. Make sure you have a clear point that you want to communicate in your essay.
2. Make it clear where you are going
All right, so my second major guideline for writing an essay is to make it clear where you are going. The reader needs to know what you're saying and needs to be aware of the path that you are taking in the essay. So don't wait until the very end of the essay to reveal the main point that you're trying to communicate. As I've said before the most important thing in an essay is to come up with a clear line of argument and it's important to tell the reader about that right at the beginning. So set out your plan for the essay at the outset and then use the rest of the essay to actually build up your argument. Use examples and evidence to support the points that you're making. Don't run through a whole range of different examples and pieces of evidence and theories and then at the end say the point that you want to make about it. Make the point first and then use the evidence to support it.
3. Plan your essay
Express your key points in complete sentences
My third guideline for writing an essay is to use a plan. Once you've done all your reading, once you've done all your research you need to step back from it and decide what you're going to say. Come up with your main line of argument, but plan your essay before you launch into the actual writing of the essay. That means that you need to decide exactly what your key points are. So you need a logical sequence of key points that actually build up your argument. It's really important when you've arrived at your key points, it's really important to express them in complete sentences. One of the mistakes that I often see students doing, and one of the things that makes plans a bit problematic for a lot of students, is that when they're coming up with their outline for their essay they just have a list of subject headings: First I'm going to be talking about this, then I'm going to be talking about that, and then last of all I'm going to talk about that. And actually that's not a very good plan, because when you go down to write something you don't know what you're going to say. You know what you're going to talk about, but you don't know what you're going to say about it. So the most important thing about the plan is to decide what your main points are and to express them in complete sentences -- not just what are you going to talk about but what are you going to say about it? Once you've got that sequence of key points expressed in complete sentences you should have a pretty good summary of your essay. And that should be able to stand alone as an answer to your essay question.
Select your evidence
Once you've decided on your sequence of key points, then you can start to flesh out your plan by listing the evidence that you're going to include for each key point. What examples are you going to draw on? What pieces of evidence or empirical work or theoretical work are you going to use to actually support each of those key points? Once you've actually done that you've got a really good framework for writing your essay: you know what your main argument is, you know what each key point is that you're going to use to support that argument, and in turn you know what key bits of evidence or examples or theories you're going to use to make each of those key points.
Review your choice of key points and evidence
One final point about the plans. If you look at your plan and you find that you've got nine, ten or even more key points then think again about whether they really need to stand separate from each other as different points. In an essay, and even in longer essays like 4,000 word essays, you'll usually only need to have a handful of key points. Remember the main objective is to support the main line of argument that you want to present to the reader. That doesn't mean that you have to cover absolutely everything that you've read. It may be the case that there will be material that you've read that really isn't relevant to the point that you want to make in this essay - so decide what the best pieces of evidence are to support the points that you actually want to make in this essay.
4. Ask someone else to read you essay
My next guideline for writing an essay is to make sure that you give it to someone else to read. It's really important to get a second opinion on your essay and sometimes when you've been working on an essay for a long time it can be really hard to adopt a fresh objective stance and look at your essay. So find someone, maybe a friend that you can bribe to read your essay, maybe a family member, long suffering flat mates - whoever you can. Get someone else to read the essay and to try and extract the main points. If you've done your job well -- if you started out with a good plan, with the key points expressed in complete sentences, and you based your essay on that plan -- then when you give that essay to someone else to read and you ask them, ‘Can you pull out the main points from this essay?', their extracted main points should look very similar to the main points that you had in your plan. So that would be a good sign that you've accomplished what you wanted to accomplish in the essay.
5. Show originality in your essay
OK, my final guideline for writing an essay concerns originality. You'll probably see in most of the assessment criteria for essays in different subjects across the university that originality is one of the markers of first class essays. Can you show originality and flair in the way that you write your essay? Well, a lot of students often ask, ‘What do I do to show originality in an essay? Do I just say what my opinion is about the subject matter?' Well, partly -- but it's not just a matter of expressing your personal opinion without justification or rationale. Originality in an academic essay is all about the way that you interrogate the material in front of you and the way that you put the material together. So, regarding the first of those points, if you are dealing with evidence, examples, theories, other people's writing - question it, adopt a critical standpoint, evaluate it, don't just accept it at face value. Regarding the second point -- about how you put ideas together and how you put your points and evidence together in your essay -- that's a really important opportunity to show your originality. It's not so much about waiting until you get to the end of the essay and then coming up with - ‘well I think ... blah blah blah..' But it's about how you put the argument together. That's where you can really show your originality. Have you taken these theories, these different bits of evidence, the different readings that you've done, have you put them together in an interesting and innovative way to answer the question? That's how a student shows originality in an essay!