Critiquing An Essay

How to Write a Critique Essay

rodrigo | March 15, 2013

WritePass - Essay Writing - Dissertation Topics [TOC]

This guide looks at writing a critique essay (also known as a critical essay).   A critique essay looks critically at a particular subject, area or topic. It means evaluating information, comparing and contrasting theories and analysing situations.  A critical essay does not mean being overly critical, it rather involves being able to challenge points of view and asking questions. Most further education courses involve writing essays of this type.

How to Prepare for Writing a Critical Essay

  • Understanding the title is particularly important in a critical essay.  You need to deconstruct what you are being asked.
  • First look for the underlying task you are asked to do (are you to produce an argument, argue for a position, or analyse a concept?).
  • Next, identify the content words in the question: what subject are you to write about?
  • Also identify any limiting words in the question: what limits the scope of the essay?
  • Plan by creating a concept or mind map of your current knowledge and what you need to expand (see figure 1 for example mind map)

  • A useful time-planner for writing a critical essay can be found here:

http://www.jcu.edu.au/tldinfo/writingskills/documents/Critical_Essay_Planner.pdf

How to Structure a Critical Essay

  • Critique essays share the same structure as other types of essay, that is they should have an introduction, main body and conclusion. However, there are some features that distinguish the critique essay from other types:
  • The introduction needs to include a thesis statement which identifies your position. You should also indicate briefly how you will argue for that position.
  • The main body will present your argument logically and in a coherent way. You could use an appropriate paragraph structure for example starting each paragraph with a topic sentence (explaining the subject and main idea), follows this with one or more supporting sentence(s) (justifying the point you are making with evidence, critiquing opposing viewpoints) and end the paragraph with a conclusion which relates it back to the main question and thesis.
  • The conclusion will summarise the main points of the essay, and relate the evidence discussed back to the original thesis. It may also consider the implications of the conclusions drawn, examine limitations, explore other relevant aspects and make suggestions.

Critical Essay Skills

  • You will need to display skills in analysis and the ability to critique in essays of this sort.
  • Analysis involves a systematic and thorough approach to your topic, breaking ideas down into constituent parts, looking at how ideas work in isolation and in the context of a wider theoretical framework, and asking questions.
  • Critical skills involve interpretation, evaluation, judgement and justifying; the ability to compare with other ideas; understanding how phenomena can be interpreted in different ways; and assessing arguments in terms of evidence for and against.
  • The ability to construct an argument is key to successful critical writing. You should develop a line of reasoning which backs up your position. You also need to be able to identify and critique opposing  positions.  You should present your reasoning in a way which is clear and well structured, and flows logically.
  • There are a number of general critical questions which apply to any text. Keep the following in mind to hone your approach to essay writing:
    • How is this known? What makes the writer think it is true?
    • How reliable is this?
    • What is really going on here?
    • Why? How? When?
    • What has been left unsaid?
    • Which argument is stronger and why?
    • What is the main argument here? Do I agree with it? (Why, Why Not?)
    • Is this relevant?
    • How will I use this information?
    • How does this information relate to what I already know?

Bibliography

James Cook University (2013) ‘What is a critical essay’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

http://www.jcu.edu.au/tldinfo/writingskills/models/critical.html

James Cook University (2013) ‘Guidelines for a critical essay’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

http://www.jcu.edu.au/tldinfo/writingskills/documents/critical_essay_guidelines.pdf

James Cook University (2013) ‘Critical Essay Planner’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

http://www.jcu.edu.au/tldinfo/writingskills/documents/Critical_Essay_Planner.pdf

Palgrave (2013) ‘Skill development guide: writing a critical essay’,

http://www.palgrave.com/business/brattonob2e/student/docs/critical.pdf

[online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

University of Bristol Union (2009) ‘Critical Thinking’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/enhs/ct.pdf

University of Sussex (2013) ‘Critical Writing’ [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/s3/?id=122

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Category: Essay Writing Guide

What is a critique?

A critique is a genre of academic writing that briefly summarises and critically evaluates a work or concept. Critiques can be used to carefully analyse a variety of works such as:

  • Creative works – novels, exhibits, film, images, poetry
  • Research – monographs, journal articles, systematic reviews, theories
  • Media –  news reports, feature articles

Like an essay, a critique uses a formal, academic writing style and has a clear structure, that is, an introduction, body and conclusion.   However, the body of a critique includes a summary of the work and a detailed evaluation.  The purpose of an  evaluation is to gauge the usefulness or impact of a work in a particular field. 

Why do we write critiques?

Writing a critique on a work helps us to develop:

  • A  knowledge of the work’s subject area or related works.
  • An understanding of the work’s purpose, intended audience, development of argument, structure of evidence or creative style.
  • A recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of the work.

How to write a critique

Before you start writing, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the work that will be critiqued.

  • Study the work under discussion.
  • Make notes on key parts of the work.
  • Develop an understanding of the main argument or purpose being expressed in the work. 
  • Consider how the work relates to a broader issue or context.

There are a variety of ways to structure a critique. You should always check your unit materials or blackboard site for guidance from your lecturer.  The following template, which showcases the main features of a critique, is provided as one example.

Introduction

Typically, the introduction is short (less than 10% of the word length) and you should:

  • Name the work being reviewed as well as the date it was created and the name of the author/creator.  
  • Describe the main argument or purpose of the work.
  • Explain the context in which the work was created.  This could include the social or political context, the place of the work in a creative or academic tradition, or the relationship between the work and the creator’s life experience. 
  • Have a concluding sentence that signposts what your evaluation of the work will be. For instance, it may indicate whether it is a positive, negative, or mixed evaluation.

Summary

Briefly summarise the main points and objectively describe how the creator portrays these  by using  techniques, styles, media, characters or symbols.  This summary should not be the focus of the critique and is usually shorter than the critical evaluation.

Critical evaluation

This section should give a systematic and detailed assessment of the different elements of the work, evaluating how well the creator was able to achieve the purpose through these.  For example: you would assess the plot structure, characterisation and setting of a novel; an assessment of a painting would look at composition, brush strokes, colour and light; a critique of a research project would look at subject selection, design of the experiment, analysis of data and conclusions.    

A critical evaluation does not simply highlight negative impressions. It should deconstruct the work and identify both strengths and weaknesses. It should examine the work and evaluate its success, in light of its purpose.

Examples of key critical questions that could help your assessment include:

  • Who is the creator? Is the work presented objectively or subjectively?
  • What are the aims of the work? Were the aims achieved?
  • What techniques, styles, media were used in the work?  Are they effective in portraying the purpose? 
  • What assumptions underlie the work? Do they affect its validity?
  • What types of evidence or persuasion are used? Has evidence been interpreted fairly?
  • How is the work structured?  Does it favour a particular interpretation or point of view? Is it effective?
  • Does the work enhance understanding of key ideas or theories? Does the work engage (or fail to engage) with key concepts or other works in its discipline?

This evaluation is written in formal academic style and logically presented. Group and order your ideas into paragraphs. Start with the broad impressions first and then move into the details of the technical elements.   For shorter critiques, you may discuss the strengths of the works, and then the weaknesses. In longer critiques, you may wish to discuss the positive and negative of each key critical question in individual paragraphs.

To support the evaluation, provide evidence from the work itself, such as a quote or example, and you should also cite evidence from related sources. Explain how this evidence supports your evaluation of the work.

Conclusion

This is usually a very brief paragraph, which includes:

  • A statement indicating the overall evaluation of the work
  • A summary of the key reasons, identified during the critical evaluation, why this evaluation was formed.
  • In some circumstances, recommendations for improvement on the work may be appropriate.    

Reference list

Include all resources cited in your critique. Check with your lecturer/tutor for which referencing style to use.

 

Checklist for a critique

Have I:

  • Mentioned the name of the work, the date of its creation and the name of the creator?
  • Accurately summarised the work being critiqued?
  • Mainly focused on the critical evaluation of the work?
  • Systematically outlined an evaluation of each element of the work to achieve the overall purpose?
  • used evidence, from the work itself as well as other sources, to back and illustrate my assessment of elements of of the work?
  • formed an overall evaluation of the work, based on critical reading?
  • used a well structured introduction, body and conclusion?
  • used correct grammar, spelling and punctuation; clear presentation; and appropriate referencing style?

Further information

University of New South Wales - some general criteria for evaluating works

University of Toronto - The book review or article critique

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