A critical analysis (sometimes called a critique, critical summary, or book review) is a systematic analysis of an idea, text, or piece of literature that discusses its validity and evaluates its worth. A critical analysis usually includes a summary–a concise restatement of what a text says–and an evaluation–how well it says it. A critical analysis in literature, for example, might examine the style, tone, or rhetorical appeals of a text, while an analysis of a scientific paper might examine the methodology, accuracy, and relevance of the research.
A good critique will consider the following questions
- Who is the author, and what are his/her qualifications?
- What is the nature of the work (type, purpose, intended audience)?
- What is its significance? How does it compare to other material on the same subject? By the same author?
- What is the author's thesis?
- What is the organizational plan or method? Is it well conceived? Does it achieve the author's objectives?
- What are the underlying assumptions? Are they stated or do they lurk behind a stance of neutrality and objectivity?
- How do assumptions and biases affect the validity of the piece?
- Are arguments/statements supported by evidence? Is the evidence relevant? Sufficient?
- Is the author's methodology sound?
- What evidence or ideas has the author failed to consider?
- Are the author's judgments and conclusions valid?
- What rhetorical strategies does the author use? Are they effective?
A word about the thesis statement
Remember that no matter what format you follow in writing your critical analysis, it should have a thesis statement that establishes your approach to or opinion about the piece. Your thesis statement will not be the same as the original author's thesis statement. For example, say that the original author's thesis statement is “the moon is made of green cheese.” Your own thesis might be “the author's assertion that the moon is made of green cheese is ill-founded and is not supported with adequate evidence.”
Organizing the Critical Analysis
There are many models for writing a critical analysis. Some disciplines recommend breaking an analysis into two sections: The first section provides a summary of the content of the work, while the second section analyzes and evaluates the work. Other disciplines, in contrast, favor a model in which the summary and analysis are smoothly integrated. See the reverse side for two serviceable (if unembellished) formats for a critical analysis. Also, remember that length can vary from a paragraph to several pages.
Sample Critical Analysis — Two-Part Structure
In “Nature Cannot be Fooled,” [title] originally published in 1998 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, [date and source] Washington University Professor Jonathan Katz[author name and descriptor] contends [active verb] that American Society denies reality, living instead as if its “wished-for fictions” were “true” [paraphrase (and partial quotation) of author's thesis]. Katz further [transition] argues[active verb] that this distorted view of reality manifests itself in many negative ways—from public health policy to education. [list of key ideas]
(Note that the evaluative terms are bold-faced for the purposes of illustration only.)
Unfortunately, Katz fails to support his argument. His commentary relies onfallacies, unsupported claims, and opinions rather than on logical statements, supported claims, and facts. Therefore, even though Katz expresses much passion, he fails to offer a persuasive argument. [Use your own thesis statement to provide an organizational plan for the paper.]
The body paragraphs should analyze particular components of the work. For instance, in an analysis of the Katz commentary, the body would offer specific illustrations of the flawed passages in Katz's commentary; these illustrations would support the analytical claims that you are making about the work. The focus, then, is objective analysis, not subjective response.
The conclusion may restate the author's thesis, but the main purpose of the conclusion should be to emphasize your assessment of the writer's work.
Sample Critical Analysis — Integrated Model
One technique for integrating a summary and an evaluation is simply to merge the two separate sections (like the examples above) into a single introductory paragraph. Another technique is to synthesize the summary and evaluative comments, as in the following sample introduction:
In 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” for an audience of literary scholars of his own day. Thus, the essay can pose some difficulties for modern readers, who may not be familiar with literary history or the specific critics to whom Tolkien refers. In addition, Tolkien's diction is formal and quite dense. Nevertheless, he offers a persuasive and masterful defense of Beowulf, one of England's most beloved works. [Our thesis] Tolkien argues that Beowulf scholars are wrong to mine the poem solely for historic evidence about the Anglo-Saxon period, rather than reading it as a great and inspiring work of literature. [Tolkien's thesis] Although he agrees that its historical value is high, he shows that Beowulf is so powerful as a poem that its literary qualities far outshine its historical value.
Teresa Sweeney & Fran Hooker Webster University Writing Center, 2005
See page discussing MLA Format (i.e. using proper header, etc. )
See page listing more specific hints for the Research Paper
First and foremost, remember that this is a Critical response paper, NOT a Personal response paper.
You must maintain an academic perspective throughout your paper. You are presenting an argument and supporting it with evidence from the text or other sources. Therefore, AVOID the following types of statements: "It seems to me," "I think," "I believe," and "It is obvious that." In fact, avoid using the first person (and second person, for that matter) altogether.
It must contain a strong thesis statement in a strong introductory paragraph.
Be sure your first paragraph is an overview of the contents of your essay. It's almost like an outline for your reader that is written in complete sentences. Sometimes it's helpful to go back and refocus your first paragraph after you've finished your essay.
- Your thesis sentence should present a point that you will prove. Do NOT make announcements ("This paper will compare Coleridge and Shelley in terms of their use of nature") or ask questions (Who is the real villain of Frankenstein? Let's find out.").
- You also need to make sure you introduce both the author and work to be analyzed as early as possible.
- Be sure to use quotation marks for titles of shorter works, such as poems and short stories, and italics for titles of longer works, such as plays, epic poems and novels.
- Avoid using references to the dictionary (Webster's defines love as . . . ").
Each paragraph has a topic sentence and a concluding sentence. You should use evidence within your paragraphs which further explains what your topic sentence introduced. Don't forget to clearly express your own opinions. Avoid repeating yourself.
- Avoid plot summary! Use quotes from only those sections of the text immediately relevant to your discussion!
Each time your read a text, the events "occur" all over again. Therefore, as you describe these events, always use present verb tense: "Victor creates a creature out of dead body parts." "The other mariners appear to come back to life after they have been dead for a while."
Evidence is needed in your paper.
Be sure to "back up" all your points with either examples from the text, citations from the text or your outside resources.
Using proper MLA format, include parenthetical citations with proper punctuation and a Works Cited page.
- Be careful when quoting verse--Use slashes to show line breaks and cite by line (or act.scene.line for plays).
- Introduce and explain all quotes. This means you should avoid beginning or ending a paragraph with a quote and you should never place quotes back to back without discussion in between them.
- Also, avoid using quotes as the subjects of sentences!
- "xxxxxx" means that . . . [awkward]
- When he says, "x x x x x," he means . . . . [also pretty awkward]
- Avoid plagiarism !! See Policy
- DO NOT USE A COVER PAGE !!
Good grammar will make your ideas clearer to your reader.
- Don't use "in which" when you mean "that."
- Don't use "that" when you mean "who" (i.e. when referring to people)
- Use Punctuation to show Possession: "Shelley's book" not "Shelley book"
Do not use run-on sentences. Again, it's better to make shorter clearer sentences than long confusing ones.
Commas are often needed when you do write a longer sentence (but don't overuse them!).
Try to use smooth transitions between one paragraph and the next.
A strong conclusion leaves your reader fulfilled and your paper complete.
Briefly sum up your thesis. Perhaps your final thesis has a little more content than the thesis in your introductory paragraph because the reader now knows where you are coming from.
Don't be afraid to make your final paragraph REALLY COUNT in some way. Again, it gives the reader something to remember you by.