How to Write a Critical Essay

Critical Essay
Writing Guide

A critical essay may be about a book, a work of art, a film or another subject. The point of these essays is to challenge your ability to analyze something and present well-researched evidence.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to write a critical essay:

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Step 1 - Examine The Subject of The Essay

If you’re writing one on a book, play or poem, read it at least once. If you’re writing about a film, watch it a few times. As you read or watch, take notes:

  • Main theme(s) - what is this piece about?
  • Features that make it unique from or similar to other works
  • Stylistic observations - Is it representative of modern or postmodern writing? Is it part of the neorealist film movement?
  • What questions come up as you watch/read it? Jot them down in your notes.

Step 2 - Do Research

Find credible sources from academic experts. As you read through your sources, take detailed notes. Include a wide range of thoughts and opinions on the piece. You can narrow down what to include and what to leave out later. It’s better to have more information than not enough.

Step 3 - Develop Your Thesis

A thesis statement should be a strong opinion that opens itself to opposition. For example, “His adaptation of the original play to suit the cinema along with his masterfully haunting scenes make Orson Welles’ Macbeth the best film version of the Shakespeare play.” Someone could offer strong objections to that statement, which makes it a good thesis. Note that the statement is strong throughout. If you use the word “arguably the best film…”, it takes away from its strength.

Step 4 - Decide Which Evidence to Use

There could be several compelling pieces of evidence, but you have limited space and can’t include them all. How to decide:

  • Which ones best support your thesis statement?
  • Which ones are from the most recognized authorities on the subject?
  • Which ones have more than one author who supports the same idea?

Step 5 - Include an Antithesis

It’s important to address the opposing side of an argument for a couple of reasons:

  • A counter-argument gives the reader a more thorough account of the subject
  • By addressing it, you establish yourself as an authority on the subject; you’ve studied different sides of the issue

Step 6 - Write an Outline

Make a rough outline of all the points you want to include. Your essay should have:

  • An introduction - How do you want to introduce your subject? With a quote, an anecdote, a statistic or some other technique? Remember that the last sentence of the introductory paragraph is usually the thesis statement.
  • Supporting paragraphs - Which themes have you chosen to support your thesis?
  • Anti-thesis - What issue will you present as a counterpoint to your thesis?
  • Conclusion - Will you conclude by summarizing your main points? Or mention other works that your subject had an influence on?

Step 7 - Write Your Essay

Once you’ve made your outline, it’s time to flesh out your themes. Here are some tips:

  • For good academic writing - Become familiar with terms that are relevant to your subject. For example, if you’re writing about a Jackson Pollock painting, you would want to use words such as “abstract expressionism” and “drip painting style”
  • For readability- Use transition words such as “Firstly”, “In addition”, “However”, “Therefore”, “Moreover”. They serve as guides to the reader to help them follow your logic

Step 8 - Edit

Leave time to edit your writing. Here are some helpful editing tips:

  • Print it out and read it out loud.
  • Ask a friend or parent to read it.
  • Use an editing tool to edit it for grammar, spelling and other issues.

While editing, look for:

  • Grammar and spelling mistakes.
  • Holes in your logic.
  • Structural issues.

A good critical essay presents a compelling analysis of a subject backed up by valid resources with a counter-point woven in. Make sure to follow these tips to write a great essay.

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