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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
The main objective of a critical essay is the analysis of a literary piece, an article, a work of art, or a movie. For a student, it is vital to see the difference between this kind of essay and a review. Generally, it lies in the academic level of these papers. While a critical essay is an example of academic writing which is based on proper research, the goals of a review are much more superficial. When you write a critical essay, you are to provide evidence from credible sources and their analysis. In the majority of reviews, you are simply to summarize the plot, retell the story shown in a movie, or describe a piece of art under consideration and provide your personal opinion about it. One of the main reasons why students fail their critical reviews is that they don’t understand that criticizing and critique are not the same things. Although you still should point out the disadvantages of the work you are writing about, you shouldn’t forget about its strong points and its value in the history of art, literature, or cinema. Your ultimate goal is to stay unbiased and evaluate all the aspects of the piece objectively. Keep this in mind if you want to create an excellent critical essay.
Writing a critical essay requires a student to be very attentive to details for three main reasons. First, you are to explain the author’s or artist’s ideas to your reader, which is next to impossible unless you have conducted comprehensive research. Secondly, you have to state whether an author, an artist or a film crew was consistent in their attempts to bring the idea to light. Therefore, you can’t miss a thing tracking both the details of the work and your response to them. These aspects should be observed both from the point of view of the audience and from that of critics and researchers. And finally, you might be assigned to evaluate the background of the story or a separate part of the work in question. Taking into the account everything said above, writing a good critical essay is not as easy as it might seem.
Before you start writing, remember the five main goals a critical essay should achieve. They are:
There are several steps of preparing for writing a critical essay.
If any of the instructions are not clear to you, don’t make the mistake of starting to work right away. Don’t rush and read the assignment attentively. Ask your instructor to explain everything you don’t understand. This is the only way to avoid doing unnecessary work and get a good grade.
Whatever you have to write your critical essay about, focus on your primary source. Remember that it is not enough to scan a book or a movie under your consideration. You will have to read or watch it several times. If it is a movie, you can’t watch it over and over again. Mindless staring at the screen will be stressful and won’t bring you a full understanding of the movie in question. If you are to write a critical essay about a painting or a sculpture, try to look at it from various angles as if it is seen by different people.
You shouldn’t rely on your memory blindly. You might notice a lot of interesting things when you read a book, watch a movie, or see a work of art for the first time. You have to take notes about it immediately. Otherwise, when you start writing, they can simply slip your mind. It concerns everything – from the main ideas the author wants to convey to any mistakes he or she makes in attempts to do so. One may argue that essay writers can get distracted from the work itself when they take notes. Keep a pad and a pencil at hand to avoid major distractions. A second-long note taking won’t make you lose track.
After studying the primary source in detail, you have to revise your notes. On this basis, you will be able to point out the main problems that an author, an artist, or a film crew touch upon. Also, pay attention to the themes of the work you write about, as you will have to discuss them in your essay as well. At this point, you only need to find the questions the author wants to answer.
Trying to find the answers to the questions mentioned above is your next step. Now, it is time to choose your point of view. Enumerate strengths and weaknesses of the work you are going to write about. Remember that you can’t ‘pick a side’ because you have to stay objective. You can start working on your thesis and an outline of your critical essay.
Every student’s performance hugely depends on his or her ability to conduct proper research. In the case of a critical essay, many students mistakenly consider the profound research to be unnecessary. After all, we have to base the majority of our conclusions on the primary sources, right? Right, but you shouldn’t forget that your work has to be objective and grounded. That is why working with secondary sources is more than advisable. It is a compulsory part of writing your essay. Using such sources is one of the main things that differ your critical essay from a review. It provides you with an opportunity to look at the work under consideration from different angles. Plus, it broadens the context of your essay. Besides the general information about the work and its author, you can use critiques and materials on the history and theory of literature, art, or cinema.
One of the most common mistakes students make is searching for the secondary sources online. The point is that you can’t get a credible source without access to a good online library. Various forums, articles in free encyclopedias, and essays written by other students may be used as sources of general information. But you can never cite them. Besides, the statements you find in such resources are rarely accurate. You don’t know who is the contributor of this or that writing and when such an article was written. That is why the information used may be outdated. So, you have to take your time and search for credible academic sources to rely on. When you work with secondary sources, you have to note everything that might be useful for your research. This will help you observe the interrelation between a secondary source and the work you are writing about. Compare your notes on the primary and secondary sources, and you will definitely see some evidence for proving your thesis.
Here are the main criteria for picking good sources for a critical essay:
Any essay has a standard structure. A critical essay is not an exception. It includes an introduction, the main body, and the conclusion. Your essay won’t be graded without all of them. But it is not enough to divide a paper into these parts. The first thing you are to do is to create an outline. Unfortunately, students often skip the outlining stage, as they think that it is too time-consuming. In reality, it is all the way around. A well-written outline saves a lot of time in the process of writing because it gives you an opportunity to structure the information thoroughly and quickly.
For instance, if your topic is “Contemporary Classical Music” the outline may be as follows:
Contemporary Classical Music
Your introduction is the most powerful tool to grab readers’ attention. You have to describe your topic in the introduction without giving too much away. A good introduction leaves no questions as to what the paper is about but doesn’t overload the audience with information too.
The thesis is included in the introduction and is repeated in the conclusion. It shows why the paper is written and what you want to prove. There are two main rules of writing a thesis statement: it has to be short, and it has to be informative. Peculiarly, the majority of students choose only one rule to follow. So, they get either a three-sentence explanation or a short sentence taken out of context. If you want to succeed with your critical essay thesis, pay attention to the tips below:
The number of body paragraphs in a critical essay may vary. In most cases, writing assignments at college are five-paragraph essays, which leaves us three paragraphs for the body. A body paragraph is a segment of a paper which has a separate topic sentence but, at the same time, is closely related to the rest of the text. You have to make sure that the paragraph logically, structurally, and stylistically fits your critical essay. Each body paragraph is aimed at proving the main point of your essay and providing evidence for your thesis statement.
The conclusion for this kind of essay is written according to the same principles as those for other essay types. You have to restate your thesis and to confirm the main arguments with the evidence you have used in the body. Mind that a critical essay conclusion is usually short and it is very important not to add any new information to what has already been said. You are to summarize your paper and bring your readers the sense of closure. A good conclusion is always inspiring so you may inform about the possibilities for the further discussion.
When you have written your critical essay, your work on it is still not finished. There are still plenty of things to be done. Some students pick the title at this stage. If you already have one, you should make sure that it is really laconic and fits your text. Then, you are to work on your citations. Check whether all the sources you have used and cited are referenced in accordance with the format required. Referencing is quite a tiresome and monotonous work, but you have to remember that one missed source can cost you a good grade. Finalizing your essay will include three main steps: reading, proofreading, and editing. First, read your essay quickly to see if everything is clear and if there are any misconceptions. Secondly, check it for grammar and spelling mistakes. Correct all the typos and make sure you haven’t overused the passive voice. Check the paper for plagiarism. Editing a critical essay takes a lot of responsibility. You are better to leave your paper for a couple of days, read the assignment and all the instructions again, and then check each and every point of the essay. A lot of students have to revise their papers significantly at this stage, but if you followed our tips, you probably have everything covered.
You may be given a list of topics to choose. Or you may be assigned to invent your own topic. One way or another, remember that picking the right topic is half of your success. Don’t pick something you have no idea about. Otherwise, you will spend plenty of time searching for background information. A critical essay topic has to be interesting to you and relevant to your audience.
Here are some critical essay topic samples: