What is a critical essay?

The purpose of a critical essay is to state your reasoned opinion about someone else’s work or an event, including its often unstated assumptions or point of view. Criticism is the art of judging or evaluating, with knowledge and propriety, the beauties and faults of works of art or literature. The idea is extended to the similar consideration of moral values, of the the soundness of scientific hypotheses and procedures, etc.

The word “critical” has positive as well as negative meanings. You can write a critical essay that agrees entirely with the reading. The word “critical” describes your attitude when you read the article. This attitude is best described as “detached evaluation,” meaning that you weigh the coherence of the reading, the completeness of its data, and so on, before you accept or reject it.

A critical essay or review begins with an analysis or exposition of the reading, article by article, book by book.

Each analysis should include the following points:

1. A summary of the author’s point of view, including:

  • a brief statement of the author’s main idea (i.e., thesis or theme);
  • an outline of the important “facts” and lines of reasoning the author used to support the main idea;
  • a summary of the author’s explicit or implied values; and
  • a presentation of the author’s conclusion or suggestions for action.

2. An evaluation of the author’s work, including:

  • an assessment of the “facts” presented on the basis of correctness, relevance, and whether or not pertinent facts were omitted;
  • an evaluation or judgment of the logical consistency of the author’s argument;
  • an appraisal of the author’s values in terms of how you feel or by an accepted standard.

Once the analysis is completed, check your work! Ask yourself, “Have I read all the relevant (or assigned) material?” “Do I have complete citations?” If not, complete the work! The following steps are how this is done.

Now you can start to write the first draft of your expository essay/literature review. Outline the conflicting arguments, if any; this will be part of the body of your expository essay/literature review.

Ask yourself, “Are there other possible positions on this matter?” If so, briefly outline them. Decide on your own position (it may agree with one of the competing arguments) and state explicitly the reason(s) why you hold that position by outlining the consistent facts and showing the relative insignificance of contrary facts. Coherently state your position by integrating your evaluations of the works you read. This becomes your conclusions section.

Briefly state your position, state why the problem you are working on is important, and indicate the important questions that need to be answered; this is your “Introduction.” Push quickly through this draft – don’t worry about spelling, don’t search for exactly the right word, don’t hassle yourself with grammar, don’t worry overmuch about sequence – that’s why this is called a “rough draft.” Deal with these during your revisions. The point of a rough draft is to get your ideas on paper. Once they are there, you can deal with the superficial (though very important) problems.

See: Critical Essay Sample
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