- Identify the author's thesis and purpose
- Analyze the structure of the passage by identifying all main ideas
- Consult a dictionary or encyclopedia to understand material that is unfamiliar to you
- Make an outline of the work or write a description of it
- Write a summary of the work
- Determine the purpose which could be
- To inform with factual material
- To persuade with appeal to reason or emotions
- To entertain (to affect people's emotions)
- If the purpose is to inform, has the material been presented clearly, accurately, with order and coherence?
- If the purpose is to persuade, look for evidence, logical reasoning, contrary evidence
- If the purpose was to entertain, determine how emotions are affected: does it make you laugh, cry, angry? Why did it affect you?
SAMPLE OUTLINE FOR CRITICAL ESSAY
After the passage under analysis has been carefully studied, the critique can be drafted using this sample outline.
- I. Background information to help your readers understand the nature of the work
- A. Information about the work
- 1. Title
- 2. Author
- 3. Publication information
- 4. Statement of topic and purpose
- B. Thesis statement indicating writer's main reaction to the work
- II. Summary or description of the work
- III. Interpretation and/or evaluation
- A. Discussion of the work's organization
- B. Discussion of the work's style
- C. Effectiveness
- D. Discussion of the topic's treatment
- E. Discussion of appeal to a particular audience
Avoid introducing your ideas by stating "I think" or "in my opinion." Keep the focus on the subject of your analysis, not on yourself. Identifying your opinions weakens them.
Always introduce the work. Do not assume that because your reader knows what you are writing about, you do not need to mention the work's title.
Other questions to consider: Is there a controversy surrounding either the passage or the subject which it concerns?
What about the subject matter is of current interest?
What is the overall value of the passage?
What are its strengths and weaknesses?
Support your thesis with detailed evidence from the text examined. Do not forget to document quotes and paraphrases.
Remember that the purpose of a critical analysis is not merely to inform, but also to evaluate the worth, utility, excellence, distinction, truth, validity, beauty, or goodness of something.
Even though as a writer you set the standards, you should be open-minded, well informed, and fair. You can express your opinions, but you should also back them up with evidence.
Your review should provide information, interpretation, and evaluation. The information will help your reader understand the nature of the work under analysis. The interpretation will explain the meaning of the work, therefore requiring your correct understanding of it. The evaluation will discuss your opinions of the work and present valid justification for them.
To write an effective critical analysis, you must first be sure that you understand the question that has been posed, and all literary terms that you have been asked to address. Once you feel you understand the question, reread the piece of literature, making notes. Then look at the notes you've made, consider what connections you can make between observations, and reconsider the question. Try to formulate a rough thesis statement (your "claim"). Now try to select those pieces of evidence that you feel you can most convincingly use to support the claim you made. Next, try to formulate a good introduction, that
- names the work discussed and the author.
- provides a very brief plot summary.
- relates some aspect of that plot to the topic you have chosen to address.
- provides a thesis statement.
- indicates the way you plan to develop your argument (support your claim).
Now proceed to introduce and discuss the evidence you mentioned in your introduction, in the order in which you mentioned it. Ensure that you deal with each kind of evidence in a paragraph of its own, and that you introduce the topic of each paragraph with a carefully-focused topic sentence. Also ensure that you end each paragraph with a concluding sentence that sums up the thrust of that paragraph's argument and possibly paves the way for the next piece of evidence to be discussed. (Alternatively, you can begin the next paragraph with a transitional phrase that links the new piece of evidence with the one you have just summarized.)
Finally, write a conclusion that restates your thesis (but using different words), incorporates a brief restatement of your key evidence, and provides a sense of closure. A good closing technique is to somehow link the claim you have made about this particular piece of literature with the author's general style or preoccupations, or to suggest some way in which the topic you have just discussed relates more generally to some aspect of human existence.
What follows is the sample essay analysing the use of setting in the short story "The Cask of Amontillado." Both "good" and "poor" examples of the essay's first and second body paragraphs are included. As you read each paragraph of the essay, beginning with its introduction, clicking on the "continue" arrow at the bottom of the paragraph will permit you to see commentary on particular features of the essay-writing process. To see all the commentary, you may need to click the arrow multiple times.