Unlike the name implies a critical analysis does not necessarily mean that you are only exploring what is wrong with a piece of work. Instead, the purpose of this type of essay is to interact with and understand a text. Here’s what you need to know to create a well-written critical analysis essay.
What is a critical analysis?
A critical analysis examines and evaluates someone else’s work, such as a book, an essay, or an article. It requires two steps: a careful reading of the work and thoughtful analysis of the information presented in the work.
Although this may sound complicated, all you are doing in a critical essay is closely reading an author’s work and providing your opinion on how well the author accomplished their purpose.
Critical analyses are most frequently done in academic settings (such as a class assignment). Writing a critical analysis demonstrates that you are able to read a text and think deeply about it. However, critical thinking skills are vital outside of an educational context as well. You just don’t always have to demonstrate them in essay form.
How to outline and write a critical analysis essay
Writing a critical analysis essay involves two main chunks of work: reading the text you are going to write about and writing an analysis of that text. Both are equally important when writing a critical analysis essay.
Step one: Reading critically
The first step in writing a critical analysis is to carefully study the source you plan to analyze.
If you are writing for a class assignment, your professor may have already given you the topic to analyze in an article, short story, book, or other work. If so, you can focus your note-taking on that topic while reading.
Other times, you may have to develop your own topic to analyze within a piece of work. In this case, you should focus on a few key areas as you read:
- What is the author’s intended purpose for the work?
- What techniques and language does the author use to achieve this purpose?
- How does the author support the thesis?
- Who is the author writing for?
- Is the author effective at achieving the intended purpose?
Once you have carefully examined the source material, then you are ready to begin planning your critical analysis essay.
Step two: Writing the critical analysis essay
Taking time to organize your ideas before you begin writing can shorten the amount of time that you spend working on your critical analysis essay. As an added bonus, the quality of your essay will likely be higher if you have a plan before writing.
Here’s a rough outline of what should be in your essay. Of course, if your instructor gives you a sample essay or outline, refer to the sample first.
- Background Information
- Critical Analysis
Here is some additional information on what needs to go into each section:
In the first paragraph of your essay, include background information on the material that you are critiquing. Include context that helps the reader understand the piece you are analyzing. Be sure to include the title of the piece, the author’s name, and information about when and where it was published.
“Success is counted sweetest” is a poem by Emily Dickinson published in 1864. Dickinson was not widely known as a poet during her lifetime, and this poem is one of the first published while she was alive.
After you have provided background information, state your thesis. The thesis should be your reaction to the work. It also lets your reader know what to expect from the rest of your essay. The points you make in the critical analysis should support the thesis.
Dickinson’s use of metaphor in the poem is unexpected but works well to convey the paradoxical theme that success is most valued by those who never experience success.
The next section should include a summary of the work that you are analyzing. Do not assume that the reader is familiar with the source material. Your summary should show that you understood the text, but it should not include the arguments that you will discuss later in the essay.
Dickinson introduces the theme of success in the first line of the poem. She begins by comparing success to nectar. Then, she uses the extended metaphor of a battle in order to demonstrate that the winner has less understanding of success than the loser.
The next paragraphs will contain your critical analysis. Use as many paragraphs as necessary to support your thesis.
Discuss the areas that you took notes on as you were reading. While a critical analysis should include your opinion, it needs to have evidence from the source material in order to be credible to readers. Be sure to use textual evidence to support your claims, and remember to explain your reasoning.
Dickinson’s comparison of success to nectar seems strange at first. However the first line “success is counted sweetest” brings to mind that this nectar could be bees searching for nectar to make honey. In this first stanza, Dickinson seems to imply that success requires work because bees are usually considered to be hard-working and industrious.
In the next two stanzas, Dickinson expands on the meaning of success. This time she uses the image of a victorious army and a dying man on the vanquished side. Now the idea of success is more than something you value because you have worked hard for it. Dickinson states that the dying man values success even more than the victors because he has given everything and still has not achieved success.
This last section is where you remind the readers of your thesis and make closing remarks to wrap up your essay. Avoid summarizing the main points of your critical analysis unless your essay is so long that readers might have forgotten parts of it.
In “Success is counted sweetest” Dickinson cleverly upends the reader’s usual thoughts about success through her unexpected use of metaphors. The poem may be short, but Dickinson conveys a serious theme in just a few carefully chosen words.
What type of language should be used in a critical analysis essay?
Because critical analysis papers are written in an academic setting, you should use formal language, which means:
- No slang
- No contractions
- Avoid first-person pronouns (I, we, me)
Do not include phrases such as “in my opinion” or “I think”. In a critical analysis, the reader already assumes that the claims are your opinions.
Your instructor may have specific guidelines for the writing style to use. If the instructor assigns a style guide for the class, be sure to use the guidelines in the style manual in your writing.
Additional tips for writing a critical analysis essay
To conclude this article, here are some additional tips for writing a critical analysis essay:
- Give yourself plenty of time to read the source material. If you have time, read through the text once to get the gist and a second time to take notes.
- Outlining your essay can help you save time. You don’t have to stick exactly to the outline though. You can change it as needed once you start writing.
- Spend the bulk of your writing time working on your thesis and critical analysis. The introduction and conclusion are important, but these sections cannot make up for a weak thesis or critical analysis.
- Give yourself time between your first draft and your second draft. A day or two away from your essay can make it easier to see what you need to improve.
Frequently Asked Questions about critical analyses
🎃 How do you start a critical analysis essay?
In the introduction of a critical analysis essay, you should give background information on the source that you are analyzing. Be sure to include the author’s name and the title of the work. Your thesis normally goes in the introduction as well.
🐶 What does a critical analysis essay look like?
A critical analysis has four main parts.
🥝 Can a critical analysis be written in first person?
The focus of a critical analysis should be on the work being analyzed rather than on you. This means that you should avoid using first person unless your instructor tells you to do otherwise. Most formal academic writing is written in third person.
🚛 How many paragraphs should a critical analysis have?
How many paragraphs your critical analysis should have depends on the assignment and will most likely be determined by your instructor. However, in general, your critical analysis paper should have three to six paragraphs, unless otherwise stated.
🧭 How do you end your critical analysis?
Your critical analysis ends with your conclusion. You should restate the thesis and make closing remarks, but avoid summarizing the main points of your critical analysis unless your essay is so long that readers might have forgotten parts of it.