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How to Write a Critical Analysis Essay

13 Apr 2018

A critical analysis essay is one of the most common types of writing assignments given to students that study humanities. When a professor gives you such a task, it’s usually because he wants to determine your level of expertise in a particular field as well as to evaluate your writing style and critique skills.

When working on such an assignment, regardless of the subject, your job is to convey your thoughts about it and how you’ve come to thinking that way. In most cases, the “how” of your essay is even more significant than the “what”, as that is the part where you get to prove your ability to interpret a work.

Critical Analysis: Definition

In its basic sense, a critical analysis can be defined as an academic writing assignment that serves to reflect an individual’s perception and interpretation of a specific work. The topic of such an assignment can be a literary piece, movie, painting, photograph, or research paper. It’s also common for essays of this type to not analyze an entire writing piece but to deal with a specific aspect instead, as such an approach allows adding more depth to the research.

The degree of success you’ll achieve with your work depends on how well you employ two skills: critical reading and critical writing. Without either one of them, it’s impossible to correctly analyze the presented work and then formulate your thoughts into a cohesive text that usually consists of a thesis and a collection of textual evidence that helps you to support your interpretation.

9 Basic Steps of Writing a Critical Analysis

The task of devising a critical analysis can be a complicated one, especially because its structure is oftentimes different than in other types of essays. With that in mind, let’s look at a guide covering all the steps you’ll have to take during the process of writing such a piece:

Step 1: Talk to the instructor

Before you start working on the essay, consider consulting your professor to ensure that you correctly understand the task in front of you. If anything is unclear to you, it’s better to find out beforehand than having to change half of your work because you misunderstood the requirements.

Step 2: Read the work several times

Critical reading differs from ordinary reading because you’re not focused on the plot, but rather on determining the author’s intention behind the work.

Tip: Take notes during the reading process, as otherwise, you risk forgetting a crucial idea or pattern.

Step 3: Think about the core questions related to your study

Once you’re done reading, it’s time to answer the following:

  • What is the main idea of the piece?
  • What are the writer’s intentions behind it?
  • What makes this text stand out from the rest?
  • What purpose does this literary piece serve?
  • Does it fulfill its purpose? How? And if not, what do you think the author failed to do?

Note: This list can and should be expanded with questions that are specific to your topic.

Step 4: Analyze the work

Use your notes and answers to the questions presented above to analyze the text and devise your own interpretation of your essay’s topic. Additionally, think about the evidence you’re going to bring up in the main body of the text.

Step 5: Study related materials

It’s recommended to read several papers related to your topic so that you can better support your opinions and thoughts and add credibility to your research. The list of trustworthy information sources includes published papers, magazine and newspaper articles, and reliable websites.

Step 6: Create an outline for your essay

Before you begin writing the text of your study, come up with an outline based on the assignment’s requirements.

Step 7: Write the first draft

Now, it’s time to sit down and turn all your notes and thoughts into a coherent essay.

Step 8: Edit and revise your text

If you have time to spare, it’s better to set your essay aside for a while before you start editing it. Doing so will allow you to look at the text from a fresh perspective and locate mistakes that you might have missed otherwise.

During the revision process, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the text exist as a coherent whole?
  • Am I expressing any extremely controversial thoughts?
  • How strong are my arguments and do they have any weaknesses?
  • Are there any poorly-phrased sentences in my work?
  • Have I provided sufficient support for my thesis statement?

Step 9: Format the essay

Once you’ve revised your work, it’s time to make any necessary changes to the formatting of your paper and don’t forget to reference all materials you’ve used during the writing process.

Critical Analysis Essay Outline

In most scenarios, your professor will give you an outline of how your essay should look like. However, if you weren’t presented with one, here are the elements that can be included in your work:

  • Introduction
  • Background information about the work
  • Thesis statement
  • Summary of the work’s purpose
  • Your personal interpretation of the key events and themes of the literary piece
  • Examination of the text’s organization and structure
  • Analysis of the author’s style
  • Evaluation of the work’s value and beauty
  • Examination of the topic’s treatment
  • Conclusion

Note: Depending on the specific topic you were given, some of these elements may have to be altered or removed completely.

Critical Analysis Examples

To get a better picture of how such an essay should look like, let’s take a look at a couple of examples. First, let’s imagine that you were given “Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero” as your topic and the professor tasked you with determining how relevant the subtitle of this piece really is.

The introduction of such a critical analysis would have to briefly acquaint the reader with the novel and mention that Thackeray has written “Vanity Fair” to deconstruct the concept of a “hero” in a literary piece. The thesis statement should contain your opinion about how well the author managed to accomplish this objective. The essay’s main body paragraphs should deal with the discussion of the novel’s structure, style, and characters, with all of these aspects being analyzed from your point of view.

Another example of a critical analysis can be one dedicated to a symbol that is commonly found in the works of a specific poet. In such an essay, you would first have to introduce the author in question to the reader, mention where this symbol can be found, and include your interpretation of its meaning. The main body passages should provide information about where how this symbol is implemented, and how the context of its usage supports your opinion.

In conclusion, a critical analysis is a writing assignment that can be written on a wide range of subjects. Creating such an essay allows you to express your interpretation of a work and to determine the author’s intention behind it.

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