Today, our essay writers share their expertise in writing a critical essay. As an avid reader or a movie-goer, you might have casually shared your opinions on books and films with friends and online followers. However, writing a critical essay about a book or film as a college assignment is quite a different kettle of fish. As it usually is with academic papers, it’s less about opinions and more about deep analysis. Without further ado, let’s start our guide!
What Is a Critical Essay
Since many students have difficulty telling critical essays and reviews apart, let’s first examine the critical essay definition.
A critical essay is an academic paper where you interrogate a text, a work of art, an event, or a movement, come up with an interpretation of it, and support it with the evidence from the work itself or from other scholarly sources. It’s important to note that “critical”, despite the colloquial use of the word, in academic context doesn’t mean “negative”. It means “analytical” since you have to evaluate the subject of your critique and assess its significance, using critical thinking.
A review might contain recommendations to readers and viewers and your judgment of the entertaining value of the analyzed piece. Whereas in a critical essay your focus should be on how the article, book, or film you are analyzing handles the themes it explores, what expressive means it uses to convey ideas, and to what effect.
Critical Essay Structure
The critical essay format is deceptively straightforward, following the classic 5-paragraph essay structure. This makes it even more important to plan your argument ahead and make an outline before you launch into writing your essay.
Introduction should contain your central claim about the article or the work of art you are writing about. Don’t wait until the end of your essay to reveal your opinion as a surprise twist. You should come up with the line of argument right from the start and express it in your thesis statement. Ideally, it should answer the question you have in the prompt. If you don’t have a prompt and you need ideas for critical essay topics, browse through the topical catalog of our database.
The body of evidence should develop the argument in support of your central claim. Back up your argument with well-chosen evidence from the primary source (the very text you are analyzing) and, to a lesser extent, secondary sources (other scholarly works on the subject).
Conclusion should summarize your essays’ most important claims and tie them in with your original thesis statement. Don’t assume that your readers have made all the connections – walk them through the main points once more. Don’t add any new information and don’t apologize for your opinions. Be confident about them, otherwise, you are risking to undermine the hard work you have done writing that essay with a rather weak and defensive conclusion.
Tips on How to Write a Critical Paper
When you get a critical essay to write, it usually comes with a set of specific instructions from your teachers or recommendations from your writing center – and of course, you should follow them. What we give here are general guidelines on how to write a critical essay paper as a high school or college assignment, which we hope, will be helpful to you.
1. Practice active reading
Active reading is a skill essential for thinking critically about the text – be it a work of literature or a scholarly article. Active reading is more than just staying focused and taking notes. It means reading critically. Don’t accept everything that the text says at face value. Question it.
See how the author of the literary text conveys ideas through word choice, descriptions, imagery, structure, tone, etc. Question the narrator’s reliability.
Assess how the author of a scholarly text supports their claims and builds the argument. Are they free from bias? Does their argument hold water?
2. Come up with a clear line of argument
This might seem obvious, but many students don’t know where they are going with their topic. They write everything they’ve learned about it, without making a specific original statement. That’s the most common mistake – to the point, where students fail to answer the question given in the prompt.
That is why you should always start from coming up with a thesis statement at the beginning and then use the rest of the essay to build the argument and provide the evidence in support of this statement.
3. Outline your essay
Once you have done all the research, you must come up with the logical sequence of key points that will be the plan for your essay. Make sure you express your key points in complete sentences. Don’t just make a list of subject headings saying what you are going to talk about and in what order. Instead, know what you are going to say about it and why you need this in your essay.
4. Don’t summarize
Unlike reviews, critical essays should not contain summaries of the source texts – only your analysis and interpretations. You might convey some details of the plot or describe a character if you are analyzing a work of literature or a film. However, it should serve your main argument. If not – scrap the summaries. They will only take up space and weaken your argument.
5. Choose your evidence scrupulously
Preparing for this essay, you must have read a ton of literature, and now you are ready to talk about your topic for hours, yet what is important is what are you going to say about it? Don’t turn your essay into an information dump where you are trying to include everything you know related to the topic.
Inevitably, some interesting things that you have encountered during your research won’t make it into the essay – because they would water it down and drown your central argument. However interesting they might be – if they do not bolster your main claim they have no place in your essay.
6. Don’t try to read the author’s mind
Despite many jokes about the symbolism of blue curtains and green vests, analysis of a literary text isn’t about uncovering “what the author wanted to say”. You cannot possibly know that. Don’t try to read between the lines. Instead, stick strictly to analysis: word choice, recurring themes, imagery, tone – they speak for themselves and they exist exclusively in the context of the story.
Sometimes “in-universe” meaning of things contradicts conventional interpretations – unpack those meanings carefully, based on the text. For example, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, the blue glow isn’t associated with sadness or ghosts. Quite the reverse – it is positive because, within the text, it’s connected with the light of stars, water, moon, elven magic, and, ultimately, hope.
7. Ask someone to read your essay
A second opinion is invaluable. Ask your friend, a classmate, or a family member to read your essay. Let them derive the key points from it and see if those key points correspond to the ones that you tried to make. If your test reader gets what you were trying to convey, you’ve done a great job. If not – your essay needs revision for clarity.
Read Critical Essays Examples
If you are unfamiliar with the format, writing a critical essay will be a challenging task. That is why before you start writing your own, it’s useful to read a couple of essay samples. Our collection is vast and ever-growing, so you can find samples that correspond to your academic level and maybe even your topic.
However, if you haven’t found what you were looking for, you can order a custom-made critical essay example fitting the specific requirements of your instructor. Don’t hesitate to contact our support team with any questions!