Steps In Writing A Critical Essay

Content of this article

  1. How to write a critical essay
  2. Preparation process
  3. Research
  4. Structure
  5. Finalizing an essay
  6. How to choose topic for a critical writing
  7. Samples

1. How To Write A Critical Essay

A critical essay seeks to provide an analysis or interpretation of either a book, a piece of art or a film. A critical essay is not the same as a review because unlike a review, it encompasses an academic purpose or goal. Students should not just aim at reviewing a book or a film, but should have an argument and include scholarly observations within their essay. Contrary to popular belief by a significant portion of students, critical essay writing is not about criticizing or focusing on the negative aspect of analysis. It is possible to have a critical essay which supports an idea or an author’s or director’s view regarding a particular theme. A critical essay is thus an objective analysis of a particular subject whose aim is to analyze the strengths or weaknesses of text, art, or a film. The above is of great importance, especially to students who think that critical essays are supposed to focus on the negative aspects of a subject.

The goal or purpose of a critical essay is to provide readers with an explanation or an interpretation of a specific idea or concept that an author, a painter or director included in their work. Additionally, writers can be asked to situate a certain theme in a book or film within a broader context. Essentially, critical essay writing involves weighing up the consistency of an author or director in trying to convey a particular message to their audience. It is thus vital to be keen and observant and note the different feelings as well as emotions conjured within a text, a film, or a painting. Writing a critical paper or criticizing might seem easy at first, but it can also be challenging.

Some of the purposes of a critical essay writing are as shown below:

  • Provide an objective account of an author’s, director’s or painter’s work.
  • Analyze the consistency of an author’s work in presenting their ideas.
  • Assess the consistency of an author’s work in maintaining and supporting their main argument or idea.
  • Present the strengths as well as weaknesses of an article.
  • Criticize the work of an author or a painter.

2. Preparation For Writing

Step 1: Understand the requirements

Students are often at fault for starting their essays without clearly understanding the instructor’s requirements. Instead of starting an essay immediately after reading the requirements, it is wise to seek any clarification from the teacher.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the primary source

The primary source is the book, film, or painting a student has been asked to write a critical essay about. Here, students are always advised to be careful and note everything within the source for purposes of making their essay better. If asked to write a particular book, film, or painting, students should read the book more than once, watch the film more than once, or look at the painting from different perspectives to understand the underlying themes.

Step 3: Take notes when reading/watching/assessing the primary source

Note taking is also vital to identifying the different patterns and problems within a text, film, or painting. While reading the text, or watching the movie, it is important to note the important concepts and ideas that an author or director or painter decided to incorporate within their work. The important points or aspects can indeed be overwhelming, and it is thus essential to ensure none will skip or escape the writer’s mind.

Step 4: Identify the main problems or patterns within a text, movie or art

After reviewing a text, or watching a movie or keenly analyzing a piece of art and taking notes, the next step is to identify the main problems or patterns that emerge from the notes. While noting the important aspects, certain issues or points are bound to emerge and stand out. Students thus need to be keen and identify these patterns and problems.

Step 5: Find solutions to the identified problems and patterns

The next thing after this is to try and find solutions for the identified problems and patterns. At this point, the writer should be developing their thesis statement and have their perspective clearly outlined.

3. Performing Research

Critical Essay writing is heavily dependent on how much research an individual does. In some instances, students make the mistake of depending on their primary source to write their critical essay. Unless otherwise specified by the instructor, it is always advisable to find other sources to help expand and increase the essay’s depth in content. Secondary sources help to increase an essay’s credibility and thus if needed should always be included.

Finding the right sources can be a problem and students often find themselves at fault for using unreliable sources. It is important to find genuine sources which offer reliable and accurate information lest one’s essay is filled with lies and inaccurate information. Just like how one is advised to take notes while reading or watching the primary source, it is also essential to take notes while going through the secondary sources. The notes help to determine or find patterns and points of correlation between the primary and secondary source. Understanding the relationship or the connection between the primary and secondary source is key to writing a decent critical essay. Below are some criterions for choosing the right secondary source:

  • Assess the timeliness of the source, that is, how current is the material.
  • Accuracy of the information. How reliable is the information within the source.
  • Coverage or relevance to the topic under study. Assess whether the material is of any importance or adds any value to the topic.
  • Evaluate the source of the information, that is, the author, painter, or director’s credibility.
  • Examine the objectivity or purpose of the information presented within a source. Here one assesses the possible bias within a text.

4. Critical Essay Structure

All essays follow a particular standard or format which includes an introduction, body, and a conclusion. These parts must be included in an essay to be termed as complete. However, before tackling these sections, it is important first to develop an outline for a critical essay. Critical essay outlining is essential because it provides students with a step by step guide to developing their essay.

If, for example, the topic under study is “the use of ethnic music by mainstream musicians” the outline should be as shown below:

The Use of Ethnic Music by Mainstream Musicians

Introduction

–    Explain how music keeps changing.

–    Provide a brief description of the use of ethnic music in mainstream music.

–    Pick an artist and explain why their music is of interest in this paper.

Body

–    Assess the change in music production of the artist.

–    Provide an analysis of how the artist has managed to use ethnic music.

–    Include the reception of the music of the above artist and how fans find his music.

Conclusion

–   Restate the argument or thesis statement while also mentioning why the focus was narrowed to the specified artist and their music.

–    Provide a summary of the main points.

Writing a Critical Essay Introduction

An introduction provides a description of the topic under study. While some students like providing a lot of information in the introduction, it is advisable to be brief and direct. An introduction should be specific and short but usher in the readers into the topic under study. Readers should be able to determine the writer’s focus or perspective without much fuss or without the need of reading deep into a text.  Background information is indeed of the essence, and it is thus important to include some information which will help readers to understand the entire essay.

Writing a Thesis Statement for a Critical Essay

A thesis statement reveals the main focus of the essay. Readers need to know the writer’s focus and hence the importance of a thesis statement. On many occasions, students often have flat and simple thesis statements which even though is not against any rules only help to reveal the lack of imagination or research involved. A thesis statement should be argumentative and provide readers with an assurance that they will indeed enjoy what they are reading.

Below are some tips to writing a good thesis statement:

  • Always include it in the introduction. A thesis statement should be provided early in the essay.
  • Avoid ambiguity and be as clear as possible.
  • Cliché sentence structures should be avoided. For example, “The main point of this paper is…” or “The focus of this article will be…”
  • Be specific and narrow down the statement’s scope.
  • Be original.

Writing a Critical Essay Body

While writing an essay, each sentence in the body should communicate its point. The above is almost a cliché, but it is indeed crucial to being a good critical essay writer. Each paragraph should support the thesis statement by including a claim or an argument and following it up with supporting evidence or sentences. Unless otherwise stated, critical essays should have three to six paragraphs and each of these is supposed to have five to six sentences.

Writing a Critical Essay Conclusion

A critical essay conclusion is not any different to other essay conclusions. When writing a conclusion for a critical essay, one should reiterate their stance or main argument followed by the main supporting arguments or points. Only a summary is needed here, and hence writers are asked to be brief and only include what is necessary. Readers should feel directly linked or impacted by the topic under study. An essay should leave the readers with the need or urge of finding out more about a topic.

5. Finalizing Essay

Once the paper is complete, it is essential to revise, proofread, choose a captivating title, and make appropriate citations. Revising an assignment is important because it helps to clarify the main point as well as ensures the readers’ needs are met. Having a purpose is indeed essential to writing a decent critical essay and it is important to outline it clearly. Proofreading helps one to correct grammatical errors and maintain their stance throughout their essay.

A reader’s interest is always enticed from the title and developing one is indeed an important aspect of an essay. Citations are also of the essence and help to avoid issues of plagiarism. Paraphrasing, and in-text citations should hence be taken seriously, lest a student’s work graded poorly.

6. How to choose topic for a critical analysis

Choosing a topic can be a challenge. Writers are, however, often advised to select a topic that they are familiar with and that will gift them with enough information to write the entire essay.

Below are some examples of critical essay topics:

  • Examine the literary and cultural context of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
  • Examine the use of satire in John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight Show.
  • How accurate is the assertion that satirical news shows offer people more credible news than some news channels?
  • How is the movie 21 Jump Street accurate in its depiction of high school life?
  • How does the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre horror film use the aspect of suspense to create horror?
  • What makes/made comedy series such as The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and How I met Your Mother popular?
  • What unique features did the directors of The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and How I met Your Mother include that made their shows standout?
  • Video games contribute to a significant reduction in attention span of both children and adults.
  • Adoption of children by gay couples.
  • How does exposure to violent videos impact the temperament of young children?
  • How is fashion a central part of a person’s identity?
  • Analyze the role of women characters in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  • Examine the cultural and historical accuracy of the TV series Merlin.
  • How does the director and producer of Merlin make use humor throughout the TV series?
  • Examine how well the Game of Thrones books have been adapted into the TV series Game of Thrones.

7. Samples

7.1 First sample

7.2 Second sample

7.3 Third sample


A critical essay provides interpretation and analysis of a set text, piece of music, a painting, or play. It must be written with an academic purpose; it often proposes a sound argument. Although frequently confused with a review, a critical essay is more similar to a formal essay. It should incorporate scholarly observations, with all facts correctly referenced.

Steps for Writing a Critical Essay

  1. A text, film, piece of music, or play must be selected by the instructor or student. No matter what you choose to write your critical essay on, you must ensure you are fully informed about it before writing an essay on it.
  2. Relevant material from which references can be drawn must be sought. Journals, books, articles, and online material are suitable, as long as the references are scholarly, not popular.
  3. Notes must be written about the text in question, and an argument must be constructed. A stand must be taken by the writer in favor of a particular view.
  4. The body, in the form of three or more paragraphs, must be written first. Each paragraph must discuss one point that supports the argument.
  5. A conclusion is written next, summing up the points, summarizing the argument, and giving a one-sentence closing.
  6. The introduction is written last to make sure it presents the argument clearly. It must contain a strong thesis statement that also sums up the argument.
  7. The finished essay must be read a number of times, corrected, edited, and finally proofed for errors.

Critical Essay Topics

  • Doping in the Olympics
  • Impact of videogames to children
  • Changing gender roles
  • Impact of technology
  • Factors leading to juvenile delinquency
  • How to avoid recidivism?
  • Wonders of the ancient world
  • Atlantis
  • Ways of managing inflation
  • Importance of entrepreneurship

Key Points to Consider

  • An argument can be based on the qualities of the text in question. Thought must be given to the kinds of readers or audiences to whom the writing might be addressed by the author of the set text.
  • A critical essay must examine the text, question it, and evaluate it. The writer must state what kind of text it is, and whether it achieves the aims of its author. That is, does it entertain, does it educate, does it instruct, or does it inform?
  • A suitable combination of main and secondary points must be used in the three or more body paragraphs, which contain the central thrust of the essay. Ideas, notions, and concepts taken from the initial set of notes must be reworked to produce an argument.
  • Rhetorical questions must not be used, since they are a weak and predictable way to form an argument, and truisms must be avoided. Making a point using the findings of an authoritative author is always best.
  • Persuasive techniques must be used in an effective manner to argue the value or lack of value of the text. The most common techniques are to appeal to emotion, to evidence, and facts supported by citations. These techniques must adhere to a discipline, such as logic.
  • A critical essay does not merely accept the decisions and opinions of others, however. It must question, analyze, and propose alternative views, options, and attitudes.

Critical Styles

One style to use when writing a critical essay is the claim and evidence style. The writer must make a number of claims about the set text, or anything else you have chosen to examine. These claims are then supported by evidence found in other texts, which are used as references.

Another effective style is the new information method. Here, the writer provides fresh research which has not yet been used by others to discuss the given subject.

Examination and exploration is a style that looks into the fine details of a text or piece of art, and explores all the possible motivations, inspirations, and reasons the creator of the text or piece of art might have had during the creative process.

Do and Don’t

Do
  • Do seek out more than one fact or piece of information, supported by a reference, for each argument made in a critical essay. Use quotes when the exact words of the author are used.
  • Do describe the set text or piece of art accurately to demonstrate you have examined it in depth.
  • Do make it a point to understand that a critical essay is not one long stream of negative criticism.
  • Do use philosophical notions such as logic, deduction, and inference to support your points.
  • Do use opposing arguments and approach a view from both sides.
  • Do paraphrase accurately and effectively when interpreting references from books and journals.
  • Do invite opposition to your argument, and state your knowledge of differing opinions on the given text.
Don’t
  • Don’t make categorical statements without the support of referenced facts and quotes.
  • Don’t lose track of your argument.
  • Don’t introduce new material in the concluding paragraph.
  • Don’t actively or negatively criticize the set text in a subjective manner.
  • Don’t use colloquialisms, popular rhetoric, magazine-style prose, or commonplace examples. Keep the argument scholarly at all times.
  • Don’t neglect your quality of writing and quality of thought. A sound argument couched in poor language or a poor argument phrased in excellent style will not disguise a lack of preparation.

Common Mistakes

  • Avoid driving a point home too strongly. It is enough to support your claims with evidence without strong language or repetition.
  • An effective critical essay must appeal to the reader’s sentiments, but not in an overstated fashion.
  • Avoid making points that are mere opinions.
  • Make sure your language matches the argument style.
  • Do not omit direct quotes from relevant texts. Ensure all your references are up-to-date and appropriate to the subject and theme.
  • Avoid using too many negative sentences. A critical essay can be just as positive as any other piece of writing: analysis, interpretation, and questioning need not be negative.
  • Avoid presenting facts and data, but omitting a clear and well thought-out thesis argument. Make a logical outline or plan, and keep to it.

A well-written critical essay is one where the writer has made a clear argument in flawless language. Logic, sound reasoning, and an investigative attitude are always seen by examiners as foundations for a well-organized discussion about a set text.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic critical essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our critical essay samples to link theory with practice.

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Samples for Writing a Critical Essay

Is It Ever Too Late to Study?

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Atlantis Theories

Among the cryptic stories everyone knows since childhood, the myth of Atlantis is probably one of the most thrilling and mysterious ones. The idea of a huge continent lying underwater, once inhabited by a supposedly ingenious civilization is intriguing on ...

Changing Gender Roles

There is an infamous old German expression: “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche,” supposedly coined by emperor Wilhelm II and referring to a woman’s place in German society, as he saw it. Humiliating and chauvinistic, this expression reflects the understanding of...

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