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Published: Friday 25th of January 2013

How to Write a Critical Essay Step by Step: Example and Tips

Think of the word critical and you could be describing something positively or negatively. The word critical describes your attitude towards the article meaning that you can weigh things up both positively and negatively. Critical essays, usually, begin by analyzing some text or another communicative piece from whatever source it comes. Every analysis ought to include certain things, so make sure you know what you're doing and take our guide to write the perfect critical essay.


Every critical essay should begin before the writing’s even started, by getting yourself prepared for writing. Getting yourself well prepared for writing is critical before you start to critique. It goes without saying that you ought to understand the instructor's requirements and work they’ve asked you to do (don’t underestimate this one), but what else do you need to know?

Go over again

The real question is how well do you know and understand your source? When you’re reading your text or watching your film, whatever it may be, make sure that you’ve watched or read it a number of times. At a first glance, you’ll be familiar with the basics, but it’s only after the second glance that your mind will start to pick up on other things. Not only should you do this but research a bit of background on your source so as to add to your full understanding of it.

Take notes

When you take notes you’re doing two things: the first is serving yourself a reminder, and the second is getting your brain engaged. It’s important that you don’t miss out on important conceptual ideas or anything that’s going to help you work on the brief. Make your life a little easier by taking good notes.

Question things

When reviewing the source ask yourself questions about everything going on. How would you identify any patterns in the source? Note down any aspects that you might find important, including any points that are extremely useful. The most important points will need to be made for an essay to be transformed from good to excellent. Once all these points have been taken into consideration and completed, ask yourself “am I fully prepared?” If so, let’s move onto research.

Research Tips

Writing the perfect essay requires the perfect sources of information to be reviewed and analyzed. Don’t make the mistake of only depending on your primary source for all the information - making a good critique of something requires that you substantiate what you say with evidence and fact. Finding the most reputable sources is what you’ll want to do, i.e. ideally sourcing academics, highly cited sources and sources from reputable organizations. It’s often difficult to determine what content out there is genuine so if you can, reference academic work. Doing a search on Google Scholar can get reputable sources for you instantly, moreover, you’re able to sort the sources based on citations (the best sources will, generally, be the ones with the most citations unless the articles are brand new). Peer-reviewed academic journal articles are, generally, the best sources but books are also good to cite - you know that the publishers have scrutinized the content beforehand to make sure that it’s accurate at the very least. If you don’t have access to a library, there are a lot of books you can find for free by searching through Google Books.


Part of writing a decent essay is being able to guide a reader along with your train of thought with a structure that makes it possible to do so. The structure provides the essay with fluidity and if it’s not there, you may as well throw the essay into the bin, to be honest! There are a few pointers you can take about the structure to point you in the right direction.


The introduction is the place where you want to get the audience’s attention from the get-go, so this means using clearly informative language and keeping things simple (for the time being - you can get into the nitty gritty later). Ushering in your reader should be a walk in the park as long as you offer a short summary of what you intend the essay to be and what will follow on. The introduction needs a thesis statement to be included in it.

Thesis statement

The thesis statement? What’s that I hear you say? The thesis statement in your essay will be a short summary of the main focus of the essay. The audience needs to be made aware of what the essay writer is focusing on and the point he wishes to make, so make a short and sweet statement about what the main idea behind the essay is to be. This is a place to be as unambiguous as possible - keep it to the point.

The Body

This is where the fun starts, so to speak. The body of your work is where you can really let loose and flesh out the main arguments (not too loose though!). A good critique will avoid cliches at all costs. Any claims you wish to make need to be backed up with thought out points, substantiated with real evidence or logical opinions. As previously hinted, credible sources of critical evaluation are the best examples to give - after all, we’re not interested in what a kindergarten kid has to say are we!


By the end of the essay, the conclusion should provide a sum up of the most important points. Make sure that you do not include any new ideas and start discussing something new here - this cannot be stressed enough. The conclusion is, instead, a place to refer briefly back to your thesis statement and provide an overall summary.

Choosing a Topic

More often than not, students will actually find it difficult to pick something out of the millions of possible choices that are theoretically available so don’t worry if you haven’t got your topic yet. Here are some classic ideas, pointers and things you can think about in case you’re racking your brains:
  • Examining the cultural context behind a controversial novel or play.
  • How is satire used in a famous TV program you’ve recently seen? Examine its use.
  • What is the best way to raise awareness of environmental issues?
  • What do you make of America’s gun laws and attitudes to reform them?
  • Is the use of gratuitous violence in horror serving the purpose of enhancing a film?
  • Should countries be outlawing their death penalty programs?
  • Should countries work together to rid the world their nuclear weapons?
  • Examine the cultural and historical accuracy of the TV season Merlin.
  • Should people be critical of gay couples adopting children?
  • What are the most striking things about sitcoms that give them their popularity?
  • Do social media have an overwhelmingly negative impact on society today?
  • What are the factors that lead to a rise in knife crime?
  • Do video games lead to a loss of attention span in children?
  • A critique of president Trump’s foreign policy.
  • Is fashion really needed in today’s society in light of concerns over materialism?
  • A critical analysis on gender rights in the LGBTQ community.
  • Do women that wear the hijab really empower their gender and human rights?
  • Are the ways that parents discipline their children right in today’s society?

Final Thoughts

Before you set off to write the critical essay of a lifetime, take note of this information and advice to help you on your way. Keep in mind that a good analysis is largely based on being able to suggest the reasons for and against; not describing what is there in plain sight. Don’t attack the author either - you’ve got to weigh up the pros and cons in an orderly and intelligent way, never forget the sight of evidence and fact to back up opinions and arguments.