How to Write a Critical Essay

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A critical essay is a form of academic writing that analyzes, interprets, and/or evaluates a text. In a critical essay, an author makes a claim about how particular ideas or themes are conveyed in a text, then supports that claim with evidence from primary and/or secondary sources.

In casual conversation, we often associate the word "critical" with a negative perspective. However, in the context of a critical essay, the word "critical" simply means discerning and analytical. Critical essays analyze and evaluate the meaning and significance of a text, rather than making a judgment about its content or quality.

What Makes an Essay "Critical"? 

Imagine you've just watched the movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." If you were chatting with friends in the movie theater lobby, you might say something like, "Charlie was so lucky to find a Golden Ticket. That ticket changed his life." A friend might reply, "Yeah, but Willy Wonka shouldn't have let those raucous kids into his chocolate factory in the first place. They caused a big mess."

These comments make for an enjoyable conversation, but they do not belong in a critical essay. Why? Because they respond to (and pass judgment on) the raw content of the movie, rather than analyzing its themes or how the director conveyed those themes.

On the other hand, a critical essay about "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" might take the following topic as its thesis: "In 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,' director Mel Stuart intertwines money and morality through his depiction of children: the angelic appearance of Charlie Bucket, a good-hearted boy of modest means, is sharply contrasted against the physically grotesque portrayal of the wealthy, and thus immoral, children."

This thesis includes a claim about the themes of the film, what the director seems to be saying about those themes, and what techniques the director employs in order to communicate his message. In addition, this thesis is both supportable  and  disputable using evidence from the film itself, which means it's a strong central argument for a critical essay .

Characteristics of a Critical Essay

Critical essays are written across many academic disciplines and can have wide-ranging textual subjects: films, novels, poetry, video games, visual art, and more. However, despite their diverse subject matter, all critical essays share the following characteristics.

  • Central claim . All critical essays contain a central claim about the text. This argument is typically expressed at the beginning of the essay in a thesis statement , then supported with evidence in each body paragraph. Some critical essays bolster their argument even further by including potential counterarguments, then using evidence to dispute them.
  • Evidence . The central claim of a critical essay must be supported by evidence. In many critical essays, most of the evidence comes in the form of textual support: particular details from the text (dialogue, descriptions, word choice, structure, imagery, et cetera) that bolster the argument. Critical essays may also include evidence from secondary sources, often scholarly works that support or strengthen the main argument.
  • Conclusion . After making a claim and supporting it with evidence, critical essays offer a succinct conclusion. The conclusion summarizes the trajectory of the essay's argument and emphasizes the essays' most important insights.

Tips for Writing a Critical Essay

Writing a critical essay requires rigorous analysis and a meticulous argument-building process. If you're struggling with a critical essay assignment, these tips will help you get started.

  • Practice active reading strategies . These strategies for staying focused and retaining information will help you identify specific details in the text that will serve as evidence for your main argument. Active reading is an essential skill, especially if you're writing a critical essay for a literature class.
  • Read example essays . If you're unfamiliar with critical essays as a form, writing one is going to be extremely challenging. Before you dive into the writing process, read a variety of published critical essays, paying careful attention to their structure and writing style. (As always, remember that paraphrasing an author's ideas without proper attribution is a form of plagiarism .)
  • Resist the urge to summarize . Critical essays should consist of your own analysis and interpretation of a text, not a summary of the text in general. If you find yourself writing lengthy plot or character descriptions, pause and consider whether these summaries are in the service of your main argument or whether they are simply taking up space.
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How to Write a Critical Essay [Ultimate Guide]

Table of Contents:

1.How to write a critical essay 2.What Makes Essay Critical 3.Steps to Write a Critical Essay 4.Creating a critical essay plan 5.Tips for Writing a Critical Essay 6.Useful techniques used in writing a critical essay 7.Critical Essay Structure 8.Topics for writing a critical essay 9.Critical Essay Examples

How to write a critical essay:

  • Examine a source: read it carefully and critically.
  • Organize your thoughts: figure out the core claim and evidence, do research of secondary resources.
  • State a thesis: make sure it has both a claim and details sustaining it.
  • Write an outline.
  • Write a draft of your critical essay.
  • Edit and improve your essay .

Critical essays are among the most common types of writing assignments in college. Also known as analytical, a critical essay is about evaluating somebody’s work (a movie, a book, an article, etc.) and proving that your evaluation is correct.

The problem is, students often confuse a critical essay with a report, a critical precis , or a review.

In this article, we’ll reveal the core characteristics of a critical essay and learn the right way of writing it.


What Makes Essay Critical

A critical essay has  a claim  and  evidence  to prove that claim.

Here you need to  analyze the work (a book, a movie, an article, whatever), respond to its central themes, and evaluate  how its author conveyed them.

Attention!  If the purpose of your paper isn’t to critique but inform or persuade readers of something, it won’t be a critical essay. Check our guides on  expository essays  or  persuasive essays  instead.

In other words,  your essay is critical if:

  • There is a thesis about the central themes of a discussed work in it.
  • It explains what an author wanted to say about those themes.
  • You describe what techniques an author used to communicate the message.

Please note that “critical” doesn’t mean “negative.” It’s about analysis and interpretation, not judging or disparaging.

When a teacher assigns a critical essay, they want to get a professionally presented and grammatically correct paper with a clear argument and consistent and accurate references to support that argument. They need a paper demonstrating that you’ve read a source, understood its theme, and evaluated the evidence relating to that theme.

Steps to Write a Critical Essay

Before you take a seat and start writing a critical essay, make sure you understand its characteristics and purpose inside out.

You need to analyze and evaluate a work.

Note:  Analysis = breaking down and studying the part; evaluation = assessing strengths and weaknesses.

You need to express a central claim of your work in a  thesis statement  and then support it with evidence in each body paragraph.

Note:  The evidence can be either the details from a source (dialogues, imagery, descriptions, text structure, etc.) or secondary resources such as scholarly articles or expert reviews that can help you support your argument.

You need to  write a conclusion .  Summarize a critical essay, emphasizing its most essential insights.

Long story short, here go your steps to write a critical essay.

Step 1: Examine a Source

You won’t write a critical essay if you don’t understand the subject of evaluation. Let’s say you write an essay on a book. It stands to reason that you need to read it first, right?

So, your first step to writing a critical essay will be critical reading. And while reading, make sure to take as many notes as possible. Utilizing an essay maker can help to organize your thoughts and structure your essay.

Take note of the instruments the author uses to communicate the message. What does he want to say? What words, grammar constructions, or stylistic devices does he use?

Also, think of the questions that come to your mind while reading. Write them down, too.

Step 2: Organize Your Thoughts

Now it’s time to figure out the core topic and problem of a piece. Find its central claim and the evidence demonstrating that claim. What does make it different or similar to other corresponding works?

Brainstorm to come up with what you already know, think, and feel about the topic. Think of related ideas and associations arising when you try to analyze it. Once your thoughts are on paper, start organizing them: group all the ideas and identify the areas for further research.

You might need to  do research  and find secondary sources such as scholarly articles or online reviews by experts to understand the original piece better. Collect all the necessary references you might later need to give credit in your critical essay.

Step 3: State a Thesis

Your critical essay should have a one-sentence thesis with two components: a claim and details sustaining it. Based on the information you’ve gathered from the subject of evaluation (a book, a movie, etc.) and secondary sources, write a thesis that will specify your essay’s direction.


Hint:  When making a claim, answer the question, “What point am I trying to make?” If still in doubt, introduce your idea and evidence to a  thesis statement generator : it will craft a thesis draft that you’ll modify later (if needed) to reflect your position better.

Step 4: Write a Critical Essay Outline

You can’t write an essay without outlining. At least, it will help you  save time : here you’ll structurize all the points into paragraphs so it would be easier to write them later.

At this stage, you’ll have arguments and evidence to evaluate in essay paragraphs. Decide on the evidence that would support your thesis statement best.

Step 5: Write a Draft

Once the essay outline is ready, it’s time to write. (Yeap, finally!) Begin with an examination (a summary) of the work and respond to its central claim. Then, analyze and evaluate it with the evidence. And finally, conclude your critical essay with the emphasis on its most essential insights.

While writing, remember about academic style: stay formal and objective; use language precisely; remember about references; use transition words in paragraphs to guide readers and help them follow your train of thoughts.

Step 6: Edit and Improve

The best advice here would be to hold your completed draft for a short while and get some rest from writing. Then,  read your essay  a few times to see all the mistakes. You may do it yourself or ask a friend, a mom, or a groupmate to help you: they’ll see your essay from a different perspective, as readers, so it will be easier for them to identify weak points to edit.

Revise your essay, making all the necessary amendments until you see it’s perfect. To make sure it’s genuinely so, don’t hesitate to  ask writing service for professional help .


Creating a critical essay plan

To write critical essay correctly, you will need a work plan. This will make it possible not to be confused by your information and to do the work consistently. More often than not, only three basic steps will suffice:

  • The first thing to do is to write an introduction that will allow the topic to be disclosed, give the first argument, and strengthen the thesis.
  • Next, you must create the central part, consisting of at least three full paragraphs. Consistently give arguments, facts, figures, and comparisons.
  • Conclude with a proper conclusion. You can rephrase the thesis statement to make a circle between the end and the beginning of your paper.

Now you know how to write a critical essay introduction and can get started efficiently.

Tips for Writing a Critical Essay

Writing a critical essay is about your thinking skills. It’s an analysis- and argument-building process, and you need to practice a lot to develop essential skills of thinking. These tips will help you start and write academic papers that work, no matter if that’s a SAT essay , a dialectic essay , or any other type of college writing.

  • Practice smart reading.  It’s when you read a text, identifying and analyzing its specific details: an author’s claims, how he or she presents those claims, controversies surrounding the message, its strengths and weaknesses, its overall value, etc.
  • Read some examples of critical essays.  It will help to understand their structure and writing style. But don’t copy others’ ideas, trying to sound smarter! Develop your writing style, use the words you know, and introduce your ideas.
  • Start writing a critical essay in advance. Don’t wait until the last moment: you’ll need time to read and evaluate the source, find evidence, introduce your thesis, write, and edit your essay. The more time you have, the better.
  • Remember to introduce the author and the work  you’re going to evaluate in your essay.
  • Avoid the “I think” or “in my opinion” stuff  when writing. You need to focus on the work, not yourself. When expressing your opinion, do it third-person and back it up with evidence.
  • Always document quotes, paraphrases, and other references  you use in essays.
  • Resist the temptation of summarizing the source in general. If you start writing lengthy descriptions of all characters and the plot, stop and double-check if this information helps your analysis. Critical essays are about interpretation and evaluation, not retelling the plot.

Useful techniques used in writing a critical essay

Writing critical analysis essays can help you with a few useful tricks that even experts use during their work:

  • you need to create a clear thesis statement to follow throughout the paper;
  • work properly with textual evidence. Don’t leave only quotes in the paragraph and give clear examples;
  • try to break paragraphs in time to create the right pauses for readers and to move from description to critique.

By doing so, your chances of succeeding in your assignment will return several times over!

Critical Essay Structure

Most essay types have a standard structure that includes an introduction (with a thesis statement), a body (paragraphs with arguments and evidence to support the thesis), and a conclusion (with a thesis restatement and essential insights). A critical essay structure is not an exception here.

But before you start writing, craft an outline,  aka  a roadmap for your essay to make sure you won’t miss any critical detail while writing a draft.

Critical Essay Outline

When you have an essay plan, its writing becomes much easier. Consider the format: as a rule, critical essays have a standard structure that consists of an introductory paragraph, a few body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Use this template that will help you write a detailed outline for your critical essay :


Once you’ve completed the critical essay outline, it’s time to start writing. Do it quickly (you will have time to proofread and edit it later), paying attention to all the details from your outline.

Critical Essay Introduction

All essays have introductions, as it’s a part where you  hook readers , tell about the topic and its importance, and, therefore, persuade them to continue reading. But while the purpose of most introductions is to introduce the thesis, a critical essay introduction is more complicated.

  Here’s how to write a critical essay introduction:

  • First,  you need to introduce the author and the title of the work.
  • Second,  you need to state the author’s main point (of the entire work or the section you’re going to evaluate in your critical essay). Answer the question, “What does the author want readers to remember?”
  • Third,  you need to state (1-2 sentences) your evaluation of the work. (It will be your thesis statement.)
  • And finally, add any background information the reader might need to understand the work’s context (its overall topic, the controversy it might involve, etc.). While it’s not a narrative essay , you need to set the stage: the chances are, your audience didn’t read the work so they wouldn’t understand your essay without the provided background.

Critical Essay Body

It’s the most detailed part of your critical essay, and it involves several sections. Each section addresses a particular detail and evidence to support your thesis.

The first section is the work’s summary.

Write a short, objective, and unbiased report of the work (or its abstract) you’re evaluating in your critical essay. Here you need to tell about the author’s overall point and the main supports he or she offers for that point. Make sure to avoid your personal opinion: write a summary in the third person!

The second section is the work’s interpretation and evaluation.

It’s where your report ends, but your  analysis  starts. Here you’ll evaluate the work’s strong and weak parts, by the following criteria:

  • How accurate is the information in the work you’re criticizing?
  • Does it have or lack definitions and key terms?
  • Are there any controversies or hidden assumptions?
  • Is the author’s language clear?
  • Is the author fair? Does he or she cover both sides of the issue, without any bias?
  • Is the work’s organization logical? Does the author present all the points in a meaningful way?
  • Are there any gaps in his or her arguments?
  • What are (if any) the author’s fallacies? (Too emotional language, over-simplification, generalization, etc.)

After that, your interpretation comes. It’s not about judging (evaluation) anymore, but your response (opinion) on this work.

Ask yourself:

  • Where do I agree or disagree with the author?
  • What does he or she get right or wrong?
  • Would I recommend this work as a credible research source?

Your interpretation is, actually, the thesis of your essay. In this section, you’ll support the opinion you expressed in the thesis.

Critical Essay Conclusion

Yes, finally! Here comes the time to write a critical essay conclusion, and it doesn’t have to be too long. It’s like a reworded introduction, where you repeat the importance of your topic, reiterate the points you discussed, and summarize your interpretation.

  • Remind readers why this topic is essential.
  • Combine your evaluation and interpretation to focus on the work’s overall strengths and weaknesses.
  • State what makes the work so popular and successful.

Topics for writing a critical essay

A properly assembled structure of a critical essay will allow you to work with almost any topic without any problems. However, choosing it can take a while, so here are some cool examples to help you start proactively.

Choose the topic closest to you and begin to study it in depth. This will allow you to accumulate the right argument and use it competently and quickly. Don’t forget to learn how to structure a critical essay and get to writing!

Critical Essay Examples

With tons of resources available online today, it’s not that difficult to find critical essay examples. But it’s challenging to find good ones . Here we have a couple of essay abstracts for you to get an idea of what a critical essay looks and sounds. Feel free to use them for informational and educational purposes only; don’t copy them word by word in your essays to avoid duplications and  accusations of plagiarism  from your educators.

Critical essay example #1  (the abstract, taken from


Critical essay example #2  (the abstract, taken from


More examples and explanations:

  • The University of Queensland: Critical reading and analysis
  • Thompson Rivers University: Critical analysis template
  • Nova Southeastern University : Critical essay

FAQ about Critical Essay

And now, for the most interesting part:

To make a long story short for you, here go answers to the most frequently asked questions about critical essay writing. Read them if you want your analytical essay to be A-worthy.

  • What type of language should be used in a critical analysis essay?

Make sure to use a formal language in critical essays. It’s about grammatical and pronunciation norms used in intellectual and academic activities. And since your essay is analytical and requires credibility, a formal language is what you need to make it sound so.

  • How to cite a critical essay?

For citing critical essays, use the MLA format. Name the author first, followed by the title. Then, specify the publication details, including the pages from where you take the quote or reference.


  • How to write a critical essay on movies?

Do it in the same ways as with books or articles. Watch the movie several times, engage with it critically: identify its core focus and message, interpret and evaluate it in the essay, and come up with the essential insights this movie gives to the audience.

  • How to write a self-critical essay?

Self-critical essays are about analyzing and evaluating your own writings. As a rule, educators assign them for you to reflect on your progress as a writer.

Such essays are not that difficult to craft. Follow the basic structure of a critical essay: write an introduction stating your thesis, a few body paragraphs analyzing your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and a conclusion that restates your thesis and sums up what you’ve learned about yourself. 

  • Can a critical essay be in the first person?

Yes, if you write a self-critical essay. But if you write about others’ works, use the third person only.

In a Word…

Don’t be afraid of writing a critical essay! Yes, essays are many, and it might seem impossible to learn the differences between them and the rules of writing them. But their basic structure is the same. All you need to do is identify the purpose of your assigned work and outline it accordingly.

Critical essays are about analyzing and evaluating the work of other writers. So, just read it, figure out what the authors wanted to say, think of whether you agree or disagree with them, and write a critical essay about all this stuff. Therefore, you develop critical thinking. You learn to introduce and prove your arguments.

And you understand how to share ideas with others so they’d listen and support you.

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How to Write a Critical Essay

Last Updated: April 8, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Megan Morgan, PhD . Megan Morgan is a Graduate Program Academic Advisor in the School of Public & International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Georgia in 2015. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 1,161,449 times.

The goal of a critical essay is to analyze a book, film, article, painting, or event and support your argument with relevant details. When writing a paper like this, you will have to come up with an interpretation of your own and then use facts or evidence from the work or other sources to prove that your interpretation is acceptable. A critical essay on a book, for example, might focus on the tone and how that influences the meaning of the book overall and would use quotations from the book to support the thesis. This type of paper requires careful planning and writing, but is often a creative way to engage with a subject that you are interested in and can be very rewarding!

Preparing to Write a Critical Essay

Step 1 Make sure that you understand the assignment.

  • Get to know the text inside and out by reading and rereading it. If you have been asked to write about a visual text like a film or piece of art, watch the film multiple times or view the painting from various angles and distances.

Step 3 Take notes as you read your text.

  • What is the text about?
  • What are the main ideas?
  • What is puzzling about the text?
  • What is the purpose of this text?
  • Does the text accomplish its purpose? If not, why not? Is so, how so? [3] X Research source Don't: summarize the plot — you should already be familiar with it. Do: jot down thoughts that may guide your paper: Does he mean __? Does this connect to __?

Step 4 Review your notes to identify patterns and problems.

  • Your solution to the problem should help you to develop a focus for your essay, but keep in mind that you do not need to have a solid argument about your text at this point. As you continue to think about the text, you will move closer to a focus and a thesis for your critical analysis essay. Don't: read the author's mind: Mary Shelley intended Frankenstein's monster to be more likable because... Do: phrase it as your own interpretation: Frankenstein's monster is more sympathetic than his creator, leading the reader to question who the true monster really is.

Conducting Research

Step 1 Find appropriate secondary sources if required.

  • Books, articles from scholarly journals, magazine articles, newspaper articles, and trustworthy websites are some sources that you might consider using.
  • Use your library’s databases rather than a general internet search. University libraries subscribe to many databases. These databases provide you with free access to articles and other resources that you cannot usually gain access to by using a search engine.

Step 2 Evaluate your sources to determine their credibility.

  • The author and his or her credentials. Choose sources that include an author’s name and that provide credentials for that author. The credentials should indicate something about why this person is qualified to speak as an authority on the subject. For example, an article about a medical condition will be more trustworthy if the author is a medical doctor. If you find a source where no author is listed or the author does not have any credentials, then this source may not be trustworthy. [5] X Research source
  • Citations. Think about whether or not this author has adequately researched the topic. Check the author’s bibliography or works cited page. If the author has provided few or no sources, then this source may not be trustworthy. [6] X Research source
  • Bias. Think about whether or not this author has presented an objective, well-reasoned account of the topic. How often does the tone indicate a strong preference for one side of the argument? How often does the argument dismiss or disregard the opposition’s concerns or valid arguments? If these are regular occurrences in the source, then it may not be a good choice. [7] X Research source (Note, however, that literary criticism often presents a very strong preference for one reading; this is not usually considered "bias" because the field of literary study is inherently subjective.) Don't: dismiss an author for favoring one point of view. Do: engage critically with their argument and make use of well-supported claims.
  • Publication date. Think about whether or not this source presents the most up to date information on the subject. Noting the publication date is especially important for scientific subjects, since new technologies and techniques have made some earlier findings irrelevant. [8] X Research source
  • Information provided in the source. If you are still questioning the trustworthiness of this source, cross check some of the information provided against a trustworthy source. If the information that this author presents contradicts one of your trustworthy sources, then it might not be a good source to use in your paper. [9] X Research source

Step 3 Read your research.

  • Clearly indicate when you have quoted a source word for word by putting it into quotation marks and including information about the source such as the author’s name, article or book title, and page number. Don't: highlight a phrase just because it sounds significant or meaningful. Do: highlight phrases that support or undermine your arguments.

Writing Your Essay

Step 1 Develop your tentative thesis.

  • Make sure your thesis provides enough detail. In other words, avoid simply saying that something is "good" or "effective" and say what specifically makes it "good" or "effective." [12] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source
  • Place your thesis statement at the end of your first paragraph unless your instructor tells you to place it elsewhere. The end of the first paragraph is the traditional place to provide your thesis in an academic essay.
  • For example, here is a multi-sentence thesis statement about the effectiveness and purpose of the movie Mad Max: Fury Road : "Many action films follow the same traditional pattern: a male action hero (usually white and attractive) follows his gut and barks orders at others, who must follow him or die. Mad Max: Fury Road is effective because it turns this pattern on its head. Instead of following the expected progression, the movie offers an action movie with multiple heroes, many of whom are women, thereby effectively challenging patriarchal standards in the Hollywood summer blockbuster." Don't: include obvious facts ( Mad Max was directed by George Miller ) or subjective opinions ( Mad Max is the greatest movie of 2015 ). [13] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source Do: present an argument that you can back up with evidence.

Step 2 Develop a rough...

  • You may want to use a formal outline structure that uses Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, and letters. Or, you may want to use an informal "mind-map" type of outline, which allows you to gather your ideas before you have a complete idea of how they progress.

Step 3 Begin your essay with an engaging sentence that gets right into your topic.

  • Other good techniques to open an essay include using a specific, evocative detail that links to your larger idea, asking a question that your essay will answer, or providing a compelling statistic.

Step 4 Provide background information to help guide your readers.

  • If you are writing about a book, provide the name of the work, the author, and a brief summary of the plot.
  • If you are writing about a film, provide a brief synopsis.
  • If you are writing about a painting or other still image, provide a brief description for your readers.
  • Keep in mind that your background information in the first paragraph should lead up to your thesis statement. Explain everything the reader needs to know to understand what your topic is about, then narrow it down until you reach the topic itself.

Step 5 Use your body paragraphs to discuss specific components of your text.

  • Provide a claim at the beginning of the paragraph.
  • Support your claim with at least one example from your primary source(s).
  • Support your claim with at least one example from your secondary sources.

Step 6 Develop a conclusion for your essay.

  • Summarize and review your main ideas about the text.
  • Explain how the topic affects the reader.
  • Explain how your narrow topic applies to a broader theme or observation.
  • Call the reader to action or further exploration on the topic.
  • Present new questions that your essay introduced. Don't: repeat the same points you made earlier in the essay. Do: refer back to earlier points and connect them into a single argument.

Revising Your Essay

Step 1 Set aside your paper for a few days before revising your draft.

  • It is important to begin writing a paper far enough ahead of time to allow yourself a few days or even a week to revise before it is due. If you do not allow yourself this extra time, you will be more prone to making simple mistakes and your grade may suffer as a result. [16] X Research source

Step 2 Give yourself sufficient time to do a substantive revision that clarifies any confusing logic or arguments.

  • What is your main point? How might you clarify your main point?
  • Who is your audience? Have you considered their needs and expectations?
  • What is your purpose? Have you accomplished your purpose with this paper?
  • How effective is your evidence? How might your strengthen your evidence?
  • Does every part of your paper relate back to your thesis? How might you enhance these connections?
  • Is anything confusing about your language or organization? How might your clarify your language or organization?
  • Have you made any errors with grammar, punctuation, or spelling? How can you correct these errors?
  • What might someone who disagrees with you say about your paper? How can you address these opposing arguments in your paper? [17] X Research source

Step 3 Complete your paper by carefully proofreading a printed version of your final draft.

  • If you are submitting your paper online or through email, check with your teacher or professor to find out what format s/he prefers. If you have used any textual formatting in your paper, you may wish to save it as a PDF file to preserve your formatting.

Sample Essays

components of a critical essay

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  • Ask a friend, family member or other acquaintance to proofread and make constructive comments on your paper. Professional writers go through several drafts of their work and you should expect to do the same. Thanks Helpful 9 Not Helpful 0
  • It is often easier to write a rough introduction and proceed with the rest of the paper before returning to revise the introduction. If you're feeling lost on how to introduce your paper, write a placeholder introduction. Thanks Helpful 8 Not Helpful 1
  • Write in your own voice. It is better to correctly use the words you know than to misuse the words you do not know in an attempt to sound scholarly. Thanks Helpful 6 Not Helpful 1

components of a critical essay

  • Make sure to cite all of your research including quotations, statistics and theoretical concepts as accurately as possible. When in doubt, err on the side of citing more rather than less, since failing to cite your research can result in a charge of plagiarism. Thanks Helpful 6 Not Helpful 2
  • Papers written at the last minute suffer from logic gaps and poor grammar. Remember that your teacher has read hundreds, if not thousands of student papers, and as such, can tell when you've written a paper at the last minute. Thanks Helpful 6 Not Helpful 2

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About This Article

Megan Morgan, PhD

To write a critical essay, develop a thesis that expresses your essay's main focus and states an arguable claim. Next, write an introduction that gives a basic overview of your paper and introduces your thesis. Then, create paragraphs that discuss your specific ideas, focusing on one main idea per paragraph. Be sure to start each paragraph with a claim and use examples from primary and secondary sources to support that claim. Finally, create a conclusion that summarizes your main points. For tips on outlining and revising your paper, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Critical Essay Writing

Cathy A.

Critical Essay - A Step by Step Guide & Examples

11 min read

critical essay writing

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A Comprehensive List of 260+ Inspiring Critical Essay Topics

Critical Essay Outline - Writing Guide With Examples

Many students find it tough to write a good critical essay because it's different from other essays. Understanding the deeper meanings in literature and creating a strong essay can be tricky.

This confusion makes it hard for students to analyze and explain literary works effectively. They struggle to create essays that show a strong understanding of the topic.

But don't worry! This guide will help. It gives step-by-step instructions, examples, and tips to make writing a great critical essay easier. By learning the key parts and looking at examples, students can master the skill of writing these essays.

Arrow Down

  • 1. Critical Essay Definition
  • 2. Techniques in Literary Critical Essays
  • 3. How to Write a Critical Essay?
  • 4. Critical Essay Examples
  • 5. Critical Essay Topics
  • 6. Tips For Writing a Critical Essay

Critical Essay Definition

A critical is a form of analytical essay that analyzes, evaluates, and interprets a piece of literature, movie, book, play, etc. 

The writer signifies the meaning of the text by claiming the themes. The claims are then supported by facts using primary and secondary sources of information.

What Makes An Essay Critical?

People often confuse this type of essay with an argumentative essay. It is because they both deal with claims and provide evidence on the subject matter. 

An argumentative essay uses evidence to persuade the reader. On the other hand, a critical analysis essay discusses the themes, analyzes, and interprets them for its audience. 

Here are the key characteristics of a critical essay:

  • Looking Beyond the Surface: In a critical essay, it's not just about summarizing. It goes deeper, looking into the hidden meanings and themes of the text.
  • Sharing Opinions with Evidence: It's not only about what you think. You need to back up your ideas with proof from the text or other sources.
  • Examining from Different Angles: A critical essay doesn't just focus on one side. It looks at different viewpoints and examines things from various perspectives.
  • Finding Strengths and Weaknesses: It's about discussing what's good and what's not so good in the text or artwork. This helps in forming a balanced opinion.
  • Staying Objective: Instead of being emotional, it stays fair and objective, using facts and examples to support arguments.
  • Creating a Strong Argument: A critical essay builds a strong argument by analyzing the content and forming a clear opinion that's well-supported.
  • Analyzing the 'Why' and 'How': It's not just about what happens in the text but why it happens and how it influences the overall meaning.

Techniques in Literary Critical Essays

Analyzing literature involves a set of techniques that form the backbone of literary criticism. Let's delve into these techniques, providing a comprehensive understanding before exploring illustrative examples:

Formalism in literary criticism directs attention to the inherent structure, style, and linguistic elements within a text. It is concerned with the way a work is crafted, examining how literary devices contribute to its overall impact.

Example: In Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights," a formalist analysis might emphasize the novel's intricate narrative structure and the use of Gothic elements.

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Psychoanalytic Criticism delves into the psychological motivations and subconscious elements of characters and authors. It often draws on psychoanalytic theories, such as those developed by Sigmund Freud, to explore the deeper layers of the human psyche reflected in literature.

Example: In "Orlando," Virginia Woolf employs psychoanalytic elements to symbolically explore identity and gender fluidity. The protagonist's centuries-spanning transformation reflects Woolf's subconscious struggles, using fantasy as a lens to navigate psychological complexities.

Feminist Criticism

Feminist Criticism evaluates how gender roles, stereotypes, and power dynamics are portrayed in literature. It seeks to uncover and challenge representations that may perpetuate gender inequalities or reinforce stereotypes.

Example: Applying feminist criticism to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" involves scrutinizing the representation of women's mental health and societal expectations.

Marxist Criticism

Marxist Criticism focuses on economic and social aspects, exploring how literature reflects and critiques class structures. It examines how power dynamics, societal hierarchies, and economic systems are portrayed in literary works.

Example: Analyzing George Orwell's "Animal Farm" through a Marxist lens involves examining its allegorical representation of societal class struggles.

Cultural Criticism

Cultural Criticism considers the cultural context and societal influences shaping the creation and reception of literature. It examines how cultural norms, values, and historical contexts impact the meaning and interpretation of a work.

Example: Cultural criticism of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" may delve into the impact of colonialism on African identity.

Postcolonial Criticism

Postcolonial Criticism examines the representation of colonial and postcolonial experiences in literature. It explores how authors engage with and respond to the legacy of colonialism, addressing issues of identity, cultural hybridity, and power.

Example: A postcolonial analysis of Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" may explore themes of identity and cultural hybridity.

Understanding these techniques provides a comprehensive toolkit for navigating the diverse landscape of literary criticism.

How to Write a Critical Essay?

Crafting a critical essay involves a step-by-step process that every student can follow to create a compelling piece of analysis.

Step 1: Explore the Subject in Depth

Start by diving into the primary subject of the work. When critically reading the original text, focus on identifying key elements:

  • Main themes: Discover the central ideas explored in the work.
  • Different features: Examine the distinctive components and specific details in the story.
  • Style: Observe the techniques and writing style  used to persuade the audience.
  • Strengths and weaknesses: Evaluate notable aspects and potential shortcomings.

Step 2: Conduct Research

To support your insights, conduct thorough research using credible sources. 

Take detailed notes as you read, highlighting key points and interesting quotes. Also make sure you’re paying attention to the specific points that directly support and strengthen your analysis of the work. 

Step 3: Create an Outline

After you have gathered the sources and information, organize what you have in an outline. This will serve as a roadmap for your writing process, ensuring a structured essay.

Here is a standard critical essay outline:

Make sure to structure and organize your critical essay with this in-depth guide on creating a critical essay outline !

Step 4: Develop Your Thesis Statement

Create a strong thesis statement encapsulating your stance on the subject. This statement will guide the content in the body sections.

A good thesis keeps your essay clear and organized, making sure all your points fit together. To make a strong thesis, first, be clear about what main idea you want to talk about. Avoid being vague and clearly state your key arguments and analysis. 

Here's what a typical thesis statement for a critical essay looks like:

"In [Title/Author/Work], [Your Main Claim] because [Brief Overview of Reasons/Key Points] . Through a focused analysis of [Specific Aspects or Elements] , this essay aims to [Purpose of the Critical Examination] ."

Step 5: Decide on Supporting Material

While reading the text, select compelling pieces of evidence that strongly support your thesis statement. Ask yourself:

  • Which information is recognized by authorities in the subject?
  • Which information is supported by other authors?
  • Which information best defines and supports the thesis statement?

Step 6: Include an Opposing Argument

Present an opposing argument that challenges your thesis statement. This step requires you critically read your own analysis and find counterarguments so you can refute them.

This not only makes your discussion richer but also makes your own argument stronger by addressing different opinions. 

Step 7:  Critical Essay Introduction

Begin your critical essay with an introduction that clearly suggests the reader what they should expect from the rest of the essay. Here are the essential elements of an introduction paragraph:

  • Hook: Start with a compelling opening line that captivates your reader's interest.
  • Background Information: Provide essential context to ensure your readers grasp the subject matter. Add brief context of the story that contributes to a better understanding.
  • Thesis Statement: Conclude with a clear thesis statement, summarizing the core argument of your critical essay. This serves as a roadmap, guiding the reader through the main focus of your analysis.

Step 8: Critical Essay Body Paragraphs

The body presents arguments and supporting evidence. Each paragraph starts with a topic sentence, addressing a specific idea. Use transitional words to guide the reader seamlessly through your analysis.

Here’s the standard format for a critical essay body paragraph:

  • Topic Sentence: Introduces the central idea of the paragraph, acting as a roadmap for the reader.
  • Analysis: Objectively examines data, facts, theories, and approaches used in the work.
  • Evaluation: Assesses the work based on earlier claims and evidence, establishing logical consistency.
  • Relate Back to Topic Sentence: Reinforces how the analyzed details connect to the main idea introduced at the beginning of the paragraph.
  • Transition: Creates a seamless transition from one body paragraph to the next.

Step 9: Critical Essay Conclusion

Summarize your key points in the conclusion. Reiterate the validity of your thesis statement, the main point of your essay. 

Finally, offer an objective analysis in your conclusion. Look at the broader picture and discuss the larger implications or significance of your critique. Consider how your analysis fits into the larger context and what it contributes to the understanding of the subject.

Step 10: Proofread and Edit

Allocate time for meticulous revision. Scrutinize your essay for errors. Rectify all mistakes to ensure a polished academic piece.

Following these steps will empower you to dissect a work critically and present your insights persuasively.

Critical Essay Examples

Writing a critical essay about any theme requires you take on different approaches. Here are some examples of critical essays about literary works and movies exploring different themes:

Critical Essay About A Movie

Equality By Maya Angelou Critical Essay

Higher English Critical Essay

Analysis Critical Essay Example

Critical Essay on Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

Critical Essay On Tess Of The d'Urbervilles

Critical Essay Topics

A strong critical essay topic is both interesting and relevant, encouraging in-depth analysis and unique perspectives.

A good critical essay topic tackles current issues, questions established ideas, and has enough existing literature for thorough research. Here are some critical analysis topic:

  • The Representation of Diversity in Modern Literature
  • Impact of Social Media on Character Relationships in Novels
  • Challenging Stereotypes: Gender Portrayal in Contemporary Fiction
  • Exploring Economic Disparities in Urban Novels
  • Postcolonial Themes in Global Literature
  • Mental Health Narratives: Realism vs. Romanticism
  • Ecocriticism: Nature's Role in Classic Literature
  • Unveiling Power Struggles in Family Dynamics in Literary Works
  • Satire and Political Commentary in Modern Fiction
  • Quest for Identity: Coming-of-Age Novels in the 21st Century

Need more topic ideas? Check out these interesting and unique critical essay topics and get inspired!

Tips For Writing a Critical Essay

Become a skilled critical essay writer by following these practical tips:

  • Dig deep into your topic. Understand themes, characters, and literary elements thoroughly.
  • Think about different opinions to make your argument stronger and show you understand the whole picture.
  • Get information from reliable places like books, academic journals, and experts to make your essay more trustworthy.
  • Make a straightforward and strong statement that sums up your main point.
  • Support your ideas with solid proof from the text or other sources. Use quotes, examples, and references wisely.
  • Keep a neutral and academic tone. Avoid sharing too many personal opinions and focus on analyzing the facts.
  • Arrange your essay logically with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Make sure your ideas flow well.
  • Go beyond just summarizing. Think deeply about the strengths, weaknesses, and overall impact of the work.
  • Read through your essay multiple times to fix mistakes and make sure it's clear. A well-edited essay shows you care about the details.

You can use these tips to make your critical essays more insightful and well-written. Now that you have this helpful guide, you can start working on your critical essay. 

If it seems too much, no worries. Our essay writing service is here to help. 

Our experienced writers can handle critical essays on any topic, making it easier for you. Just reach out, and we've got your back throughout your essay journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many paragraphs is a critical essay.

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Keep in mind that every sentence should communicate the point. Every paragraph must support your thesis statement either by offering a claim or presenting an argument, and these are followed up with evidence for success! Most critical essays will have three to six paragraphs unless otherwise specified on examinations so make sure you follow them closely if applicable.

Can critical essays be in the first person?

The critical essay is an informative and persuasive work that stresses the importance of your argument. You need to support any claims or observations with evidence, so in order for it to be most effective, you should avoid using first-person pronouns like I/me when writing this type of paper.

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Barbara P

Critical Essay Writing - An Ultimate Guide

Published on: Sep 3, 2020

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Are you tired of staring at a blank page, struggling to write a compelling critical essay?

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll get to learn all about critical essays. From steps to tips, this blog covers it all.

Plus, we’ve included some expertly written example essays and tips to ensure your critical essay lacks nothing. 

So, read on and learn!

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What Makes an Essay Critical?

A critical essay is not your typical run-of-the-mill essay. It goes beyond summarizing or describing a topic; instead, it dives deep into analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

In a general essay, the focus is often on presenting information or sharing personal opinions. However, in a critical essay, the emphasis shifts toward examining and scrutinizing the subject matter. It involves a more in-depth exploration of the topic, breaking it down to uncover underlying meanings, implications, and flaws.

For instance, a general essay prompt might ask, "Discuss the benefits of technology in modern society." On the other hand, a critical essay prompt could challenge you with, "Analyze the ethical implications of technology's influence on personal privacy in modern society."

A critical essay goes beyond mere description or opinion-sharing, it demands interpretation. You become a storyteller, unraveling the hidden narratives within the topic. It's an opportunity to uncover the underlying motives and meanings and unravel the web of conflicting viewpoints.

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Characteristics of a Critical Essay

This type of essay particularly helps a student to learn how a provided subject is analyzed critically. This essay can be composed on a topic related to films, novels, poetry, video games, art, and many more. 

A good critical essay should have the following characteristics.

  • Central claim

Every outstanding critical essay revolves around a central claim, which is introduced right at the beginning. 

This claim is supported by a strong thesis statement that lays the foundation for the essay. As you progress, body paragraphs are dedicated to reinforcing the claim with compelling evidence and factual data. 

To further strengthen your argument, you may even acknowledge counterarguments and provide explanations.

A critical essay thrives on solid evidence. This evidence can take various forms, including dialogues, descriptions, or citations from secondary sources. 

Secondary sources often include scholarly works, articles, books, and other reputable references. 

By incorporating well-chosen evidence, you substantiate your central claim and show your knowledge of the subject matter. 

Once you have gathered relevant evidence, it's crucial to conduct a thorough analysis. 

Scrutinize the collected information to ensure its validity and relevance to support your claim. If you come across any weaknesses or shortcomings, replace them with more authentic and appropriate information. 

Remember, analysis is a vital aspect of a critical essay that should never be overlooked.

How to Write a Critical Essay?

Writing a critical essay is a technical thing to do, and a writer must have strong writing skills to write such an essay.

The following are the steps that help you in writing a critical essay. 

Let’s discuss them in detail. 

  • Examine Your Prompt/Topic 

Choose an interesting and captivating topic that will make your critical essay effective. 

Understanding the topic is crucial, so identify its strengths and weaknesses. Engage in critical reading to gather information and develop a solid understanding.

  • Conduct Research 

Once you've selected your topic, gather strong evidence and factual information to support your arguments. 

Research from reputable sources such as journals, books, and news articles. Stay focused during your research to avoid getting sidetracked. 

  • Create the Critical Essay Outline 

With your topic and relevant information in hand, create an outline for your essay. An outline provides structure and saves you time.  Typically, a critical essay includes three main sections:

  • Introduction
  • Body Paragraphs 

Here are the details of what each of the section covers in the essay:

Need help structuring your essay outline? Check out this guide on creating a critical essay outline !

4. Write the First Draft 

Start your critical essay with a concise summary of the main topic and its central claim. Analyze and evaluate the topic using supporting evidence. 

Conclude your essay by emphasizing the parts that support your argument. Maintain a formal writing style, use expressive language, and incorporate transitional sentences for coherence.

5. Proofread and Edit 

After completing the writing process, carefully revise your essay and rectify any minor mistakes. 

Proofreading is crucial for ensuring a high-quality essay. You can do it yourself or seek assistance from a friend. It's advisable to repeat the proofreading process multiple times for better results.

How to Write a Critical Essay

Critical Essay Examples

Examples make understanding things easy and more vivid. However, as discussed in the blog, a critical essay is not a typical type of essay and is also not easy to write. This is why looking at examples of the critical essay is important. 

Look at the following examples and see how a well-written critical essay is written. 

Critical Essay on Atlantis Theories

If you are a naive writer, the following example of a critical essay is perfect for your guidance. 

Critical Essay on Changing Gender Roles

Critical Essay about a Movie

Critical Essay on Jane Eyre

Critical Essay on Animal Farm

Critical Essay on Language Perception

Critical Essay on Oedipus Rex

Equality by Maya Angelou Critical Essay

Critical Essay Topics

One of the things that make an essay difficult for students is finding a good topic. For a critical essay, it is very important to have a good topic. 

Here we have made a shortlist of interesting topics that you might use and write an essay.  

  • Changing gender roles
  • Impact of technology
  • Homelessness
  • Drug abuse among teenagers
  • Multicultural societies
  • Islamophobia
  • First Nations of Canada
  • Connection of violent crimes with Genes
  • Wonders of the ancient world
  • How do you answer the question about wars in the U.S.?  
  • The pyramids of Giza
  • Colonization of America
  • Unemployment
  • Substitutes for fossil fuels

Thoroughly look into these topics and see which topic you find to be an interesting one for your critical essay.

Don’t see a suitable topic? Have a look at this extensive list of critical essay topics to choose from!

Critical Essay Writing Tips

Writing a critical essay requires very careful analysis and the construction of an effective argument.

If you are a naive writer or writing a critical essay for the first time, the following tips will help you write an effective critical essay. 

  • Be an Active Reader 

To write a good critical essay, the writer must be well-focused. The thing that keeps a reader focused is the availability of authentic information. And the best way to collect authentic information is to practice active reading strategies. 

This strategy will help you to identify specific details in the text that will make strong evidence to support your main argument. Reading is essential, especially if you aim to write a critical essay.

  • Read Examples

No matter how experienced a writer you are, examples will help you write an essay more effectively. 

In case you are writing a critical essay for the first time, it is going to be a challenging task for you. This is why before you hop on to the writing process, look into some critical essay examples online. 

Carefully read through the essay and pay attention to the structuring and the writing strategy of the essay. 

  • Avoid Using the Summarization 

Critical essays usually consist of an analysis and your personal opinion and interpretation of the text. It is not merely about the summary of the text in a general context. 

This is why be careful while writing and focus more on writing about your personal analysis regarding the argument rather than just writing summaries.

Learn more tips by viewing this video:

Now you've gained valuable insights into the art of writing a critical essay. So, it's time for you to put that knowledge to use and embark on your own critical writing adventure. You can also try our AI essay writer to get plagiarism-free content within a few minutes. 

However, if you still feel a little lost, it is best to hire professionals!

Our critical essay writing service is the perfect solution for you. You can rely on experienced professionals who will work closely with you to deliver a well-researched, well-structured critical essay.

At , our " write my college essay " service aims to provide all our students with high-quality and impressive assignments. 

In case you are running out of time, or want to save your drowning grades, hit us up right now. Our customer service is available 24/7 to facilitate you and help you get well-written essays right on time. 

Place your order now and get amazing discount offers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should you not do in a critical essay.

Here are some important points that you don’t include in a critical essay. 

  • Not focus on yourself. 
  • Do not mention the work’s title. 
  • Do not assume that the reader knows everything. 

How long is a critical analysis essay?

It is between 1-4 pages in length. 

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components of a critical essay

Critical Essay

Definition of critical essay.

Contrary to the literal name of “critical,” this type of essay is not only an interpretation, but also an evaluation of a literary piece. It is written for a specific audience , who are academically mature enough to understand the points raised in such essays. A literary essay could revolve around major motifs, themes , literary devices and terms, directions, meanings, and above all – structure of a literary piece.

Evolution of the Critical Essay

Critical essays in English started with Samuel Johnson. He kept the critical essays limited to his personal opinion, comprising praise, admiration, and censure of the merits and demerits of literary pieces discussed in them. It was, however, Matthew Arnold, who laid down the canons of literary critical essays. He claimed that critical essays should be interpretative, and that there should not be any bias or sympathy in criticism.

Examples of Critical Essay in Literature

Example #1: jack and gill: a mock criticism (by joseph dennie).

“The personages being now seen, their situation is next to be discovered. Of this we are immediately informed in the subsequent line, when we are told, Jack and Gill Went up a hill. Here the imagery is distinct, yet the description concise. We instantly figure to ourselves the two persons traveling up an ascent, which we may accommodate to our own ideas of declivity, barrenness, rockiness, sandiness, etc. all which, as they exercise the imagination, are beauties of a high order. The reader will pardon my presumption, if I here attempt to broach a new principle which no critic, with whom I am acquainted, has ever mentioned. It is this, that poetic beauties may be divided into negative and positive, the former consisting of mere absence of fault, the latter in the presence of excellence; the first of an inferior order, but requiring considerable critical acumen to discover them, the latter of a higher rank, but obvious to the meanest capacity.”

This is an excerpt from the critical essay of Joseph Dennie. It is an interpretative type of essay in which Dennie has interpreted the structure and content of Jack and Jill .

Example #2: On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth (by Thomas De Quincey)

“But to return from this digression , my understanding could furnish no reason why the knocking at the gate in Macbeth should produce any effect, direct or reflected. In fact, my understanding said positively that it could not produce any effect. But I knew better; I felt that it did; and I waited and clung to the problem until further knowledge should enable me to solve it. At length, in 1812, Mr. Williams made his debut on the stage of Ratcliffe Highway, and executed those unparalleled murders which have procured for him such a brilliant and undying reputation. On which murders, by the way, I must observe, that in one respect they have had an ill effect, by making the connoisseur in murder very fastidious in his taste, and dissatisfied by anything that has been since done in that line.”

This is an excerpt from Thomas De Quincey about his criticism of Macbeth, a play by William Shakespeare . This essay sheds light on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and their thinking. This is an interpretative type of essay.

Example #3: A Sample Critical Essay on Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (by Richard Nordquist)

“To keep Jake Barnes drunk, fed, clean, mobile, and distracted in The Sun Also Rises , Ernest Hemingway employs a large retinue of minor functionaries: maids, cab drivers, bartenders, porters, tailors, bootblacks, barbers, policemen, and one village idiot. But of all the retainers seen working quietly in the background of the novel , the most familiar figure by far is the waiter. In cafés from Paris to Madrid, from one sunrise to the next, over two dozen waiters deliver drinks and relay messages to Barnes and his compatriots. As frequently in attendance and as indistinguishable from one another as they are, these various waiters seem to merge into a single emblematic figure as the novel progresses. A detached observer of human vanity, this figure does more than serve food and drink: he serves to illuminate the character of Jake Barnes.”

This is an excerpt from an essay written about Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises . This paragraph mentions all the characters of the novel in an interpretative way. It also highlights the major motif of the essay.

Functions of a Critical Essay

A critical essay intends to convey specific meanings of a literary text to specific audiences. These specific audiences are knowledgeable people. They not only learn the merits and demerits of the literary texts, but also learn different shades and nuances of meanings. The major function of a literary essay is to convince people to read a literary text for reasons described.

Related posts:

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  • Definition Essay
  • Descriptive Essay
  • Types of Essay
  • Analytical Essay
  • Argumentative Essay
  • Cause and Effect Essay
  • Expository Essay
  • Persuasive Essay
  • Process Essay
  • Explicatory Essay
  • An Essay on Man: Epistle I
  • Comparison and Contrast Essay

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Critical thinking and writing: critical writing.

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Common feedback from lecturers is that students' writing is too descriptive, not showing enough criticality: "too descriptive", "not supported by enough evidence", "unbalanced", "not enough critical analysis". This guide provides the foundations of critical writing along with some useful techniques to assist you in strengthening this skill. 

Key features of critical writing

Key features in critical writing include:

  • Presenting strong supporting evidence and a clear argument that leads to a reasonable conclusion. 
  • Presenting a balanced argument that indicates an unbiased view by evaluating both the evidence that supports your argument as well as the counter-arguments that may show an alternative perspective on the subject.
  • Refusing to simply accept and agree with other writers - you should show criticality towards other's works and evaluate their arguments, questioning if their supporting evidence holds up, if they show any biases, whether they have considered alternative perspectives, and how their arguments fit into the wider dialogue/debate taking place in their field. 
  • Recognizing the limitations of your evidence, argument and conclusion and therefore indicating where further research is needed.

Structuring Your Writing to Express Criticality

In order to be considered critical, academic writing must go beyond being merely descriptive. Whilst you may have some descriptive writing in your assignments to clarify terms or provide background information, it is important for the majority of your assignment to provide analysis and evaluation. 

Description :

Define clearly what you are talking about, introduce a topic.

Analysis literally means to break down an issue into small components to better understand the structure of the problem. However, there is much more to analysis: you may at times need to examine and explain how parts fit into a whole; give reasons; compare and contrast different elements; show your understanding of relationships. Analysis is to much extent context and subject specific.

Here are some possible analytical questions:

  • What are the constituent elements of something?
  • How do the elements interact?
  • What can be grouped together? What does grouping reveal?
  • How does this compare and contrast with something else?
  • What are the causes (factors) of something?
  • What are the implications of something?
  • How is this influenced by different external areas, such as the economy, society etc (e.g. SWOT, PESTEL analysis)?
  • Does it happen all the time? When? Where?
  • What other factors play a role? What is absent/missing?
  • What other perspectives should we consider?
  • What if? What are the alternatives?
  • With analysis you challenge the “received knowledge” and your own your assumptions.

Analysis is different within different disciplines:

  • Data analysis (filter, cluster…)
  • Compound analysis (chemistry)
  • Financial statements analysis
  • Market analysis (SWOT analysis)
  • Program analysis (computer science) - the process of automatically analysing the behaviour of computer programs
  • Policy Analysis (public policy) – The use of statistical data to predict the effects of policy decisions made by governments and agencies
  • Content analysis (linguistics, literature)
  • Psychoanalysis – study of the unconscious mind.

Evaluation : 

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Assess the evidence, methodology, argument etc. presented in a source. 
  • Judge the success or failure of something, its implications and/or value.
  • Draw conclusions from your material, make judgments about it, and relate it to the question asked. 
  • Express "mini-arguments" on the issues your raise and analyse throughout your work. (See box Your Argument.)
  • Express an overarching argument on the topic of your research. (See Your Argument .)

Tip: Try to include a bit of description, analysis and evaluation in every paragraph. Writing strong paragraphs can help, as it reminds you to conclude each paragraph drawing a conclusion. However, you may also intersperse the analysis with evaluation, within the development of the paragraph. 

Your Argument

What is an argument?

Essentially, the aim of an essay (and other forms of academic writing, including dissertations) is to present and defend, with reasons and evidence, an argument relating to a given topic. In the academic context argument means something specific. It is the main claim/view/position/conclusion on a matter, which can be the  answer to the essay (or research) question . The development of an argument is closely related to criticality , as in your academic writing you are not supposed to merely describe things; you also need to analyse and draw conclusions.

Tips on devising an argument

  • Try to think of a clear statement. It may be as simple as trying to prove that a statement in the essay title is right or wrong. 
  • Identify rigorous evidence and logical reasons to back up your argument. 
  • Consider different perspectives and viewpoints, but show why your argument prevails. 
  • Structure your writing in light of your argument: the argument will shape the whole text, which will present a logical and well-structured account of background information, evidence, reasons and discussion to support your argument.
  • Link and signpost to your argument throughout your work. 

Argument or arguments?

Both! Ideally, in your essay you will have an overarching argument (claim) and several mini-arguments, which make points and take positions on the issues you discuss within the paragraphs. 

Your Argument image

  • ACADEMIC ARGUMENTATION This help-sheet highlights the differences between everyday and academic argumentation
  • Argument A useful guide developed by The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Useful resources

Learning Development, University of Plymouth (2010). Critical Thinking. University of Plymouth . Available from  [Accessed 16 January 2020].

Student Learning Development, University of Leicester (no date). Questions to ask about your level of critical writing. University of Leicester . Available from  [Accessed 16 January 2020].

Workshop recording

  • Critical thinking and writing online workshop Recording of a 45-minute online workshop on critical thinking and writing, delivered by one of our Learning Advisers, Dr Laura Niada.

Workshop Slides

  • Critical Thinking and Writing
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4.3: Body of a Critical Analysis

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  • Stephen V. Poulter
  • Newman University

The Body of a Critical Analysis can be made up of one or more of the Critical Perspectives. What are the Critical Perspectives?

Critical Perspectives

There are generally four ways (or perspectives ) for analyzing a text: writing from the perspective of a reader , writing as if the text is an object of study, writing about or from the perspective of an author , and writing about where a text fits into a particular context .

Assuming you want to use all four of the Critical Perspectives in your essay, the body will have these four major sections:

Reader Analysis: A Reader’s Perspective

Writing from a reader’s perspective means that we seek to understand a text through our own experience, yet we try also to understand how others who may be very different from us seek to understand the same writing through their experience. We will explore this perspective by writing a first impression , writing about favorite lines , as well as writing from different perspectives and through selective reading .

Text Analysis: Text as Object

Writing about the text as an object is a perspective that highlights what makes up that text. We will construct this part of our paper by identifying the patterns , segments , and strategies (devices) in the writing you choose to analyze.

Author Analysis: Understanding Text through Author

Examining whatever we can about an author sometimes gives us another perspective with which to deepen our understanding of the writing we choose. We may look at his or her life, thought processes, behaviors, beliefs , and so on, in order to further understand his or her work.

Context: Text’s Place in History

The fourth perspective from which to view a work has to do with how it fits into a context . This context usually has to do with how a text compares to other texts and works and its effect upon history or society.

The Body of a Critical Analysis is further constructed with patterns in sections under each Perspective:

Reader Analysis patterns:

  • First Impression
  • Favorite Lines
  • Different Perspectives
  • Selective Reading

Text Analysis patterns:

  • Text Strategies
  • Literary Perspectives

Author Analysis patterns:

  • Biographical Information
  • Social Information
  • Literary Information

Context pattern:

  • Historical Information

Note that your instructor may, for example, want only a Reader Response (Reader Analysis) paper, or he or she may want some patterns and not others. However, we will go section-by-section and pattern-by-pattern to create a thorough and complete analysis of a work.

How to Write Critical Reviews

When you are asked to write a critical review of a book or article, you will need to identify, summarize, and evaluate the ideas and information the author has presented. In other words, you will be examining another person’s thoughts on a topic from your point of view.

Your stand must go beyond your “gut reaction” to the work and be based on your knowledge (readings, lecture, experience) of the topic as well as on factors such as criteria stated in your assignment or discussed by you and your instructor.

Make your stand clear at the beginning of your review, in your evaluations of specific parts, and in your concluding commentary.

Remember that your goal should be to make a few key points about the book or article, not to discuss everything the author writes.

Understanding the Assignment

To write a good critical review, you will have to engage in the mental processes of analyzing (taking apart) the work–deciding what its major components are and determining how these parts (i.e., paragraphs, sections, or chapters) contribute to the work as a whole.

Analyzing the work will help you focus on how and why the author makes certain points and prevent you from merely summarizing what the author says. Assuming the role of an analytical reader will also help you to determine whether or not the author fulfills the stated purpose of the book or article and enhances your understanding or knowledge of a particular topic.

Be sure to read your assignment thoroughly before you read the article or book. Your instructor may have included specific guidelines for you to follow. Keeping these guidelines in mind as you read the article or book can really help you write your paper!

Also, note where the work connects with what you’ve studied in the course. You can make the most efficient use of your reading and notetaking time if you are an active reader; that is, keep relevant questions in mind and jot down page numbers as well as your responses to ideas that appear to be significant as you read.

Please note: The length of your introduction and overview, the number of points you choose to review, and the length of your conclusion should be proportionate to the page limit stated in your assignment and should reflect the complexity of the material being reviewed as well as the expectations of your reader.

Write the introduction

Below are a few guidelines to help you write the introduction to your critical review.

Introduce your review appropriately

Begin your review with an introduction appropriate to your assignment.

If your assignment asks you to review only one book and not to use outside sources, your introduction will focus on identifying the author, the title, the main topic or issue presented in the book, and the author’s purpose in writing the book.

If your assignment asks you to review the book as it relates to issues or themes discussed in the course, or to review two or more books on the same topic, your introduction must also encompass those expectations.

Explain relationships

For example, before you can review two books on a topic, you must explain to your reader in your introduction how they are related to one another.

Within this shared context (or under this “umbrella”) you can then review comparable aspects of both books, pointing out where the authors agree and differ.

In other words, the more complicated your assignment is, the more your introduction must accomplish.

Finally, the introduction to a book review is always the place for you to establish your position as the reviewer (your thesis about the author’s thesis).

As you write, consider the following questions:

  • Is the book a memoir, a treatise, a collection of facts, an extended argument, etc.? Is the article a documentary, a write-up of primary research, a position paper, etc.?
  • Who is the author? What does the preface or foreword tell you about the author’s purpose, background, and credentials? What is the author’s approach to the topic (as a journalist? a historian? a researcher?)?
  • What is the main topic or problem addressed? How does the work relate to a discipline, to a profession, to a particular audience, or to other works on the topic?
  • What is your critical evaluation of the work (your thesis)? Why have you taken that position? What criteria are you basing your position on?

Provide an overview

In your introduction, you will also want to provide an overview. An overview supplies your reader with certain general information not appropriate for including in the introduction but necessary to understanding the body of the review.

Generally, an overview describes your book’s division into chapters, sections, or points of discussion. An overview may also include background information about the topic, about your stand, or about the criteria you will use for evaluation.

The overview and the introduction work together to provide a comprehensive beginning for (a “springboard” into) your review.

  • What are the author’s basic premises? What issues are raised, or what themes emerge? What situation (i.e., racism on college campuses) provides a basis for the author’s assertions?
  • How informed is my reader? What background information is relevant to the entire book and should be placed here rather than in a body paragraph?

Write the body

The body is the center of your paper, where you draw out your main arguments. Below are some guidelines to help you write it.

Organize using a logical plan

Organize the body of your review according to a logical plan. Here are two options:

  • First, summarize, in a series of paragraphs, those major points from the book that you plan to discuss; incorporating each major point into a topic sentence for a paragraph is an effective organizational strategy. Second, discuss and evaluate these points in a following group of paragraphs. (There are two dangers lurking in this pattern–you may allot too many paragraphs to summary and too few to evaluation, or you may re-summarize too many points from the book in your evaluation section.)
  • Alternatively, you can summarize and evaluate the major points you have chosen from the book in a point-by-point schema. That means you will discuss and evaluate point one within the same paragraph (or in several if the point is significant and warrants extended discussion) before you summarize and evaluate point two, point three, etc., moving in a logical sequence from point to point to point. Here again, it is effective to use the topic sentence of each paragraph to identify the point from the book that you plan to summarize or evaluate.

Questions to keep in mind as you write

With either organizational pattern, consider the following questions:

  • What are the author’s most important points? How do these relate to one another? (Make relationships clear by using transitions: “In contrast,” an equally strong argument,” “moreover,” “a final conclusion,” etc.).
  • What types of evidence or information does the author present to support his or her points? Is this evidence convincing, controversial, factual, one-sided, etc.? (Consider the use of primary historical material, case studies, narratives, recent scientific findings, statistics.)
  • Where does the author do a good job of conveying factual material as well as personal perspective? Where does the author fail to do so? If solutions to a problem are offered, are they believable, misguided, or promising?
  • Which parts of the work (particular arguments, descriptions, chapters, etc.) are most effective and which parts are least effective? Why?
  • Where (if at all) does the author convey personal prejudice, support illogical relationships, or present evidence out of its appropriate context?

Keep your opinions distinct and cite your sources

Remember, as you discuss the author’s major points, be sure to distinguish consistently between the author’s opinions and your own.

Keep the summary portions of your discussion concise, remembering that your task as a reviewer is to re-see the author’s work, not to re-tell it.

And, importantly, if you refer to ideas from other books and articles or from lecture and course materials, always document your sources, or else you might wander into the realm of plagiarism.

Include only that material which has relevance for your review and use direct quotations sparingly. The Writing Center has other handouts to help you paraphrase text and introduce quotations.

Write the conclusion

You will want to use the conclusion to state your overall critical evaluation.

You have already discussed the major points the author makes, examined how the author supports arguments, and evaluated the quality or effectiveness of specific aspects of the book or article.

Now you must make an evaluation of the work as a whole, determining such things as whether or not the author achieves the stated or implied purpose and if the work makes a significant contribution to an existing body of knowledge.

Consider the following questions:

  • Is the work appropriately subjective or objective according to the author’s purpose?
  • How well does the work maintain its stated or implied focus? Does the author present extraneous material? Does the author exclude or ignore relevant information?
  • How well has the author achieved the overall purpose of the book or article? What contribution does the work make to an existing body of knowledge or to a specific group of readers? Can you justify the use of this work in a particular course?
  • What is the most important final comment you wish to make about the book or article? Do you have any suggestions for the direction of future research in the area? What has reading this work done for you or demonstrated to you?

components of a critical essay

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Writing a Critique

  • About this Guide
  • What Is a Critique?
  • Getting Started
  • Components of a Critique Essay

Further Reading

This article provides additional guidance for writing critiques:

Vance DE, Talley M, Azuero A, Pearce PF, & Christian BJ. (2013). Conducting an article critique for a quantitative research study: perspectives for doctoral students and other novice readers.  Nursing : Research and Reviews ,  2013 , 67–75.

Parts of a Critique Essay

There are 4 distinct components to a critique, and those are the:


Each of these components is described in further detail in the boxes on this page of the guide.

An effective introduction:

  • Provides a quick snapshot of background information readers may need in order to follow along with the argument
  • Defines key terminology as needed
  • Ends with a strong argument (thesis)

For additional guidance on writing introduction paragraphs, librarians recommend:

Cover Art

Need some extra help on thesis statements? Check out our Writing Effective Thesis Statements guide .

A summary is a broad overview of what is discussed in a source. In a critique essay, writers should always assume that those reading the essay may be unfamiliar with the work being examined. For that reason, the following should be included early in the paper:

  • The name of the author(s) of the work
  • The title of the work
  • Main ideas presented in the work
  • Arguments presented in the work
  • Any conclusions presented in the work

Depending on the requirements of your particular assignment, the summary may appear as part of the introduction, or it may be a separate paragraph. The summary should always be included before the analysis, as readers need a base-level familiarity of the resource before you can effectively present an argument about what the source does well and where improvements are needed.

More information about summaries can be found on our Writing an Effective Summary guide .

The critique is your evaluation of the resource. A strong critique:

  • Discusses the strengths of the resource
  • Discusses the weaknesses of the resource
  • Provides specific examples (direct quotes, with proper citation) as needed to support your evaluation
  • The accuracy of the resource
  • Any bias found within the resource
  • The relevance of the resource
  • The clarity of the resource

A critique is your opinion  of the text, supported by evidence from the text.

If you need further guidance on how to evaluate your source, you can also consult our Evaluating Your Sources guide .

Need help with citation?  

TU Access Only

Compose papers in pre-formatted APA templates. Manage references in forms that help craft APA citations. Learn the rules of APA style through tutorials and practice quizzes.

Academic Writer will continue to use the 6th edition guidelines until August 2020. A preview of the 7th edition is available in the footer of the resource's site. Previously known as APA Style Central.

  • APA Style Help Learn more about APA style through our research guide.

A conclusion has three main functions in an essay. A conclusion will:

  • Summarize the main ideas presented in the essay
  • Remind readers of the thesis (argument)
  • Draw the paper to a close 

For additional guidance, the library recommends:

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English 102: Composition

Components of critical reading.

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No matter what your major is, one of the most useful skills you can develop as a college student is the ability to read critically, and the earlier you learn to do this, the better.  On the most basic level, reading critically means engaging and interacting with a text - taking notes, asking questions, comparing and contrasting.  Another way to think about it is to consider not just what the text says, but how it works.  

As new college students, you probably find yourself being asked to read more and to do it in shorter amounts of time than you're used to.  Using the strategies listed on this page may seem awkward at first, but with practice they will help you to become more efficient and critical readers.  

  • Interrogating Texts: 6 Reading Habits to Develop in Your First Year at Harvard Published by the Lamont Library, Harvard. Written by Susan Gilroy Reference Librarian, Lamont Library, 2004.

Look “around” the text before you start reading. 

Have you ever flipped through a book or article to see how long it was (translation: how much time and energy it would take to read)?  That's one kind of previewing.  But there are a lot of other useful things you can learn about a text before you start reading. 

Previewing helps you to develop a set of  expectations about the scope and purpose  of the text and these impressions offer you a way to focus your reading.  For instance:

  • What does the presence of  headnotes , an  abstract , or other  prefatory material  tell you?
  • Are you already familiar with the  author ?  If so, how does his (or her)  reputation  or  credentials  influence your perception of what you are about to read? If the author is unfamiliar or unknown, does an editor introduce him or her (by supplying brief biographical information, an assessment of the author’s work, concerns, and importance)?
  •  How does the  layout of a text  prepare you for reading? Is the material broken into parts like subtopics or sections?  Are there long and unbroken blocks of text or smaller paragraphs or “chunks” and what does this suggest?  How might the parts of a text guide you toward understanding the line of inquiry or the arc of the argument that's being made? 
  • Does the text seem to be arranged according to  certain conventions of discourse ?  Newspaper articles, for example, have characteristics that you can recognize; textbooks and scholarly essays are organized quite differently.  Different texts demand different things of you as you read, so whenever you can, register the type of information you’re presented with.

Annotating puts you actively and immediately into a "dialogue” with an author and the issues and ideas you encounter in a written text.  It's also a way to have an ongoing conversation with yourself as you move through the text and to record what that encounter was like for you.

Make your reading thinking-intensive from start to finish! Here's how: 

  • Throw away your highlighter : Highlighting can seem like an active reading strategy, but it can actually distract from the business of learning and dilute your comprehension.  Those bright yellow lines you put on a printed page one day can seem strangely cryptic the next, unless you have a method for remembering why they were important to you at another moment in time.  Pen or pencil will allow you do to more  to  a text you have to wrestle with.  
  • Mark up the margins of your text with words and phrases : ideas that occur to you, notes about things that seem important to you, reminders of how issues in a text may connect with class discussion or course themes. This kind of interaction keeps you conscious of the  reasons  you are reading as well as the   purposes  your instructor has in mind. Later in the term, when you are reviewing for a test or project, your marginalia will be useful memory triggers. 
  • Develop your own symbol system : asterisk (*) a key idea, for example, or use an exclamation point (!) for the surprising, absurd, bizarre.  Your personalized set of hieroglyphs allow you to capture the important -- and often fleeting -- insights that occur to you as you're reading.  Like notes in your margins, they'll proveindispensable when you return to a text in search of that  perfect passage to use in a paper, or are preparing for a big exam.   
  • Get in the habit of hearing yourself ask questions : “What does this mean?” “Why is the writer drawing that conclusion?” “Why am I being asked to read this text?” etc.  Write the questions down (in your margins, at the beginning or end of the reading, in a notebook, or elsewhere. They are reminders of the unfinished business you still have with a text: something to ask during class discussion, or to come to terms with on your own, once you’ve had a chance to digest the material further or have done other course reading.

Outline, summarize, analyze: take the information apart, look at its parts, and then try to put it back together again in language that is meaningful to you. 

The best way to determine that you’ve really gotten the point is to be able to state it in your own words. 

Outlining  the argument of a text is a version of annotating, and can be done quite informally in the margins of the text, unless you prefer the more formal Roman numeral model you may have learned in high school.  Outlining enables you to see the skeleton of an argument: the thesis, the first point and evidence (and so on), through the conclusion. With weighty or difficult readings, that skeleton may not be obvious until you go looking for it.

Summarizing  accomplishes something similar, but in sentence and paragraph form, and with the connections between ideas made explicit.

Analyzing  adds an evaluative component to the summarizing process—it requires you not just to restate main ideas, but also to test the logic, credibility, and emotional impact of an argument.  In analyzing a text, you reflect upon and decide how effectively (or poorly) its argument has been made.  Questions to ask:

  • What is the writer asserting? 
  • What am I being asked to believe or accept? Facts? Opinions? Some mixture?
  • What reasons or evidence does the author supply to convince me? Where is the strongest or most effective evidence the author offers  -- and why is it compelling?
  • Is there anywhere that the reasoning breaks down?  Are there things that do not make sense. conclusions that are drawn prematurely, moments where the writer undermines his purposes?

The way language is chosen, used, positioned in a text can be important indication of what an author considers crucial and what he expects you to glean from his argument .  It can also alert you to ideological positions, hidden agendas or biases.   Be watching for:

  • Recurring images
  • Repeated words, phrases, types of examples, or illustrations
  • Consistent ways of characterizing people, events, or issues

Once you’ve finished reading actively and annotating, take stock for a moment  and put it in perspective. When you contextualize, you essential "re-view" a text you've encountered, framed by its historical, cultural, material, or intellectual circumstances.

Do these factors change or otherwise influence how you view a piece? 

Also view the reading through the lens of your own experience. Your understanding of the words on the page and their significance is always shaped by what you have come to know and value from living in a particular time and place.

Set course readings against each other to determine their relationships (hidden or explicit).

  • At what point in the term does this reading come?  Why that point, do you imagine?
  •  How does it contribute to the main concepts and themes of the course? 
  • How does it compare (or contrast) to the ideas presented by texts that come before it?  Does it continue a trend, shift direction, or expand the focus of previous readings?
  • How has your thinking been altered by this reading, or how has it affected your response to the issues and themes of the course?

components of a critical essay

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Critical Reflection

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Writing Critical Reflection

Reflective writing is a common genre in classrooms across disciplines. Reflections often take the form of narrative essays that summarize an experience or express changes in thinking over time. Initially, reflective writing may seem pretty straightforward; but since reflective writing summarizes personal experience, reflections can easily lose their structure and resemble stream-of-consciousness journals capturing disjointed musings focused on only the self or the past.   

Critical reflection still requires a writer to consider the self and the past but adopts an argumentative structure supported by readings, theories, discussions, demonstrated changes in material conditions, and resources like post-collaboration assessments, testimonial evidence, or other data recorded during the collaboration . Common arguments in critical reflections present evidence to demonstrate learning, contextualize an experience, and evaluate impact. While critical reflections still require authors to reflect inwardly, critical reflection go es beyond the self and examine s any relevant contexts that informed the experience. Then, writers should determine how effectively their project addressed these contexts. In other words, critical reflection considers the “impact” of their project: How did it impact the writer? How did it impact others? Why is the project meaningful on a local, historical, global, and/or societal level? H ow can that impact be assessed?  

In short: reflection and critical reflection both identify the facts of an experience and consider how it impacts the self. Critical reflection goes beyond this to conceive of the project’s impact at numerous levels and establish an argument for the project’s efficacy. In addition, critical reflection encourages self-assessment—we critically reflect to change our actions, strategies, and approaches and potentially consider these alternative methods.  

Collecting Your Data: Double-Entry Journaling

Double-entry journaling is a helpful strategy for you to document data, observations, and analysis throughout the entire course of a community-based project. It is a useful practice for projects involving primary research, secondary research, or a combination of both. In its most basic form, a double-entry journal is a form of notetaking where a writer can keep track of any useful sources, notes on those sources, observations, thoughts, and feelings—all in one place.  

For community-based projects, this might involve:  

  • Recording your observations during or after a community partner meeting in one column of the journal.  
  • Recording any of your thoughts or reactions about those observations in a second column.   
  • Writing any connections you make between your observations, thoughts, and relevant readings from class in a third column.  

This allows you to document both your data and your analysis of that data throughout the life of the project. This activity can act as a blueprint for your critical reflection by providing you with a thorough account of how your thinking developed throughout the life of a project.   

The format of a double-entry journal is meant to be flexible, tailored to both your unique notetaking practice and your specific project. It can be used to analyze readings from class, observations from research, or even quantitative data relevant to your project.  

Just the Facts, Please: What, So What, Now What

Getting started is often the hardest part in writing. To get your critical reflection started, you can identify the What , So What , and Now What? of your project. The table below presents questions that can guide your inquiry . If you’re currently drafting, we have a freewriting activity below to help you develop content.  

Freewrite your answers to these questions; that is, respond to these questions without worrying about grammar, sentence structure, or even the quality of your ideas. At this stage, your primary concern is getting something on the page. Once you’re ready to begin drafting your critical reflection, you can return to these ideas and refine them.  

Below are some additional prompts you can use to begin your freewriting. These reflection stems can organize the ideas that you developed while freewriting and place them in a more formal context.  

  • I observed that...  
  • My understanding of the problem changed when...  
  • I became aware of (x) when....  
  • I struggled to...  
  • The project's biggest weakness was…  
  • The project's greatest strength was…   I learned the most when...  
  • I couldn't understand...  
  • I looked for assistance from...  
  • I accounted for (x) by...  
  • I connected (concept/theory) to...  
  • (Specific skill gained) will be useful in a professional setting through…  

Analyzing Your Experience: A Reflective Spectrum

Y our critical reflection is a space to make an argument about the impact of your project . This means your primary objective is to determine what kind of impact your project had on you and the world around you. Impact can be defined as the material changes, either positive or negative, that result from an intervention , program , or initiative . Impact can be considered at three different reflective levels: inward, outward, and exploratory.

Image portraying types of reflection (inward, outward, exploratory)

Inward reflection requires the writer to examine how the project affected the self. Outward reflection explores the impact the project had on others. Additionally, you can conceptualize your project’s impact in relation to a specific organization or society overall, depending on the project’s scope. Finally, exploratory reflection asks writers to consider how impact is measured and assessed in the context of their project to ultimately determine: What does impact look like for the work that I’m doing? How do I evaluate this? How do we store, archive, or catalog this work for institutional memory? And what are the next steps?  

This process is cyclical in nature; in other words, it’s unlikely you will start with inward reflection, move to outward reflection, and finish with exploratory reflection. As you conceptualize impact and consider it at each level, you will find areas of overlap between each reflective level.   

Finally, if you’re having trouble conceptualizing impact or determining how your project impacted you and the world around you, ask yourself:   

  • What metrics did I use to assess the "impact" of this project? Qualitative? Quantitative? Mixed-methods? How do those metrics illustrate meaningful impact?  
  • How did the intended purpose of this project affect the types of impact that were feasible, possible, or recognized?  
  • At what scope (personal, individual, organizational, local, societal) did my outcomes have the most "impact"?  

These questions can guide additional freewriting about your project. Once you’ve finished freewriting responses to these questions, spend some time away from the document and return to it later. Then, analyze your freewriting for useful pieces of information that could be incorporated into a draft.  

Drafting Your Critical Reflection

Now that you have determined the “What, So What, Now What” of your project and explored its impact at different reflective levels, you are ready to begin drafting your critical reflection.  

If you’re stuck or find yourself struggling to structure your critical reflection, the OWL’s “ Writing Process ” [embe ded link ] resource may offer additional places to start. That said, another drafting strategy is centering the argument you intend to make.  

Your critical reflection is an argument for the impact your project has made at multiple levels; as such, much of your critical reflections will include pieces of evidence to support this argument. To begin identifying these pieces of evidence, return to your “reflection stem” responses . Your evidence might include :  

  • H ow a particular reading or theory informed the actions during your partnership ;  
  • How the skills, experiences, or actions taken during this partnerhsip will transfer to new contexts and situations;  
  • Findings from y our evaluation of the project;  
  • Demonstrated changes in thoughts, beliefs, and values, both internally and externally;  
  • And, of course, specific ways your project impacted you, other individuals, your local community, or any other community relevant to the scope of your work.  

As you compile this evidence, you will ulti mately be compiling ways to support an argument about your project’s efficacy and impact .  

Sharing Your Critical Reflection

Reflective writing and critical reflections are academic genres that offer value to the discourse of any field. Oftentimes, these reflective texts are composed for the classroom, but there are other venues for your critical reflections, too.  

For example, Purdue University is home to the Purdue Journal of Service-Learning and International Engagement ( PJSL ) which publishes student reflective texts and reflections with research components. Although PJSL only accepts submissions from Purdue students, other journals like this one may exist at your campus. Other venues like the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Impact publish reflective essays from scholars across institutions, and journals in your chosen discipline may also have interest in reflective writing.  

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Key Components of a Great Critical Essay

Table of Contents

A critical essay is a piece of writing meant to evaluate, interpret, or analyze a media piece. A critical essay is a way to measure a student’s understanding of a subject and writing skills. If you need to familiarize yourself with the  structure of a critical essay , you’re in the right place.

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What are Critical Essays?

Critical essays are common among art-related courses because they encourage students to explore the full essence of many works. Critical essays are distinct because they require writers to pass judgment on the topic they are evaluating.

After all, one cannot hope to critique something they do not understand.

This also broadens their exposure to various works of art and expands their repertoire.

Critical essays require a lot of attention to detail. Students must immerse themselves in the material they are trying to critique to develop a great critical essay.

All types of essays can be challenging when they delve into complex topics and have a lot of depth. Writers can easily get lost in the many ideas about a topic. This is why those planning to write a critical essay must familiarize themselves with the structure of a critical essay.

The Importance of an Essay Structure

Essay structures include all the key topics of your essay and present your ideas in a logical and interesting order. Writers who take the time to organize their thoughts ensure that their paragraphs each serve a purpose. 

An essay structure helps writers establish a sense of progression and allows them to string different topics seamlessly. Most importantly, structured essays have a direction. They ensure that readers can easily follow topic shifts and keep them engaged throughout your work.

Essay structures are simple measures, but they can boost the quality and readability of your essay by allowing you to narrow your ideas. Any daunting essay assignment becomes less intimidating when you break it down into sections.

Structure of a Critical Essay

A critical essay aims to analyze, interpret, and evaluate work. The key components of a critical essay are as follows:

Introduction Paragraph

  • Present your main topic by identifying the work you are evaluating.
  • Write your thesis statement. (Present your main opinion of the work)

Body Paragraph

  • Begin each body with a topic sentence.
  • Include at least two supporting sentences to justify your topic sentence.
  • End each body paragraph with a transition sentence that links to the next section. 

Conclusion Paragraph

  • Wrap up your main points and explain how your key points assert your thesis statement.
  • End your essay with a strong closing statement. This is your chance to leave readers with a lasting impression.

Critical essays exercise a student’s ability to analyze and interpret work. They allow students to formulate their own opinions and help them hone their writing skills. 

An essay structure is one of the simplest ways to improve your output. It guides writers throughout the writing process and helps them identify key points to focus on. A writing structure is key to a coherent, engaging, and memorable piece. 

Key Components of a Great Critical Essay

Abir Ghenaiet

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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  • How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.

Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.

A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :

  • An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
  • A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
  • A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.

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Table of contents

Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion, other interesting articles.

The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.

To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.

Language choices

Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?

What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).

Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.

Narrative voice

Ask yourself:

  • Who is telling the story?
  • How are they telling it?

Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?

Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?

Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.

  • Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
  • Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
  • Plays are divided into scenes and acts.

Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.

There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?

With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.

In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for  dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.

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Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.

If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:

Essay question example

Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?

Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:

Thesis statement example

Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.

Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.

Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.

Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:

Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:

The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .

However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.

Finding textual evidence

To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.

It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.

To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.

Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.

A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.

If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.

“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”

The introduction

The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.

A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.

Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!

If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.

The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.

Paragraph structure

A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.

Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.

In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.

Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.

Topic sentences

To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:

… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.

Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.

This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.

Using textual evidence

A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.

It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:

It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.

In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:

The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.

A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.

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  1. Critical Essay

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  2. 10 Easy Steps: How to Write a Critical Analysis Essay

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  3. What Is a Critical Analysis Essay? Simple Guide With Examples

    components of a critical essay

  4. PPT

    components of a critical essay

  5. How to Write A Critical Essay

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  6. How to Write A Critical Essay

    components of a critical essay


  1. How to write and develop critical essays

  2. Intro to writing a critical essay

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  1. How to Write a Critical Essay

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  2. How to Write a Critical Essay [Ultimate Guide]

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  3. How to Write a Critical Essay (with Pictures)

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  4. How to Structure an Essay

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    Conclude your essay by emphasizing the parts that support your argument. Maintain a formal writing style, use expressive language, and incorporate transitional sentences for coherence. 5. Proofread and Edit. After completing the writing process, carefully revise your essay and rectify any minor mistakes.

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  22. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

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