How to Write a Critical Essay

critical essay

A critical essay provides interpretation and analysis of a set text, piece of music, a painting, or play. It must be written with an academic purpose; it often proposes a sound argument. Although frequently confused with a review, a critical essay is more similar to a formal essay. It should incorporate scholarly observations, with all facts correctly referenced.

Steps for Writing an Critical Essay

  1. A text, film, piece of music, or play must be selected by the instructor or student. No matter what you choose to write your critical essay on, you must ensure that you are fully informed about it before writing an essay on it.
  2. Relevant material from which references can be drawn must be sought. Journals, books, articles, and online material are suitable, as long as the references are scholarly, not popular.
  3. Notes must be written about the text in question, and an argument must be constructed. A stand must be taken by the writer in favor of a particular view.
  4. The body, in the form of three or more paragraphs, must be written first. Each paragraph must discuss one point that supports the argument.
  5. A conclusion is written next, summing up the points, summarizing the argument, and giving a one-sentence closing.
  6. The introduction is written last to make sure it presents the argument clearly. It must contain a strong thesis statement that also sums up the argument.
  7. The finished essay must be read a number of times, corrected, edited, and finally proofed for errors.

Key Points to Consider

  • An argument can be based on the qualities of the text in question. Thought must be given to the kinds of readers or audiences to whom the writing might be addressed by the author of the set text.
  • A critical essay must examine the text, question it, and evaluate it. The writer must state what kind of text it is, and whether it achieves the aims of its author. That is, does it entertain, does it educate, does it instruct, or does it inform?
  • A suitable combination of main and secondary points must be used in the three or more body paragraphs, which contain the central thrust of the essay. Ideas, notions, and concepts taken from the initial set of notes must be reworked to produce an argument.
  • Rhetorical questions must not be used, since they are a weak and predictable way to form an argument, and truisms must be avoided. Making a point using the findings of an authoritative author is always best.
  • Persuasive techniques must be used in an effective manner to argue the value or lack of value of the text. The most common techniques are to appeal to emotion, to evidence, and facts supported by citation. These techniques must adhere to a discipline, such as logic.
  • A critical essay does not merely accept the decisions and opinions of others, however. It must question, analyze, and propose alternative views, options and attitudes.

Critical Styles

One style to use when writing a critical essay is the claim and evidence style. The writer must make a number of claims about the set text, or anything else you have chosen to examine. These claims are then supported by evidence found in other texts, which are used as references.

Another effective style is the new information method. Here, the writer provides fresh research which has not yet been used by others to discuss the given subject.

Examination and exploration is a style that looks into the fine detail of a text or piece of art, and explores all the possible motivations, inspirations, and reasons creator of the text or piece of art might have had during the creative process.

Do and Don’t


  • Do seek out more than one fact or piece of information, supported by a reference, for each argument made in a critical essay. Use quotes when the exact words of the author are used.
  • Do describe the set text or piece of art accurately to demonstrate you have examined it in depth.
  • Do make it a point to understand that a critical essay is not one long stream of negative criticism.
  • Do use philosophical notions such as logic, deduction, and inference to support your points.
  • Do use opposing arguments and approach a view from both sides.
  • Do paraphrase accurately and effectively when interpreting references from books and journals.
  • Do invite opposition to your argument, and state your knowledge of differing opinions on the given text.

  • Don’t make categorical statements without the support of referenced facts and quotes.
  • Don’t lose track of your argument.
  • Don’t introduce new material in the concluding paragraph.
  • Don’t actively or negatively criticize the set text in a subjective manner.
  • Don’t use colloquialisms, popular rhetoric, magazine-style prose or commonplace examples. Keep the argument scholarly at all times.
  • Don’t neglect your quality of writing and quality of thought. A sound argument couched in poor language or a poor argument phrased in excellent style will not disguise a lack of preparation.

Common Mistakes

  • Avoid driving a point home too strongly. It is enough to support your claims with evidence without strong language or repetition.
  • An effective critical essay must appeal to the reader’s sentiments, but not in a overstated fashion.
  • Avoid making points that are mere opinions.
  • Make sure your language matches the argument style.
  • Do not omit direct quotes from relevant texts. Ensure all your references are up-to-date and appropriate to the subject and theme.
  • Avoid using too many negative sentences. A critical essay can be just as positive as any other piece of writing: analysis, interpretation, and questioning need not be negative.
  • Avoid presenting facts and data, but omitting a clear and well thought-out thesis argument. Make a logical outline or plan, and keep to it.

A well-written critical essay is one where the writer has made a clear argument in flawless language. Logic, sound reasoning, and an investigative attitude are always seen by examiners as foundations for a well-organized discussion about a set text.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic critical essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our critical essay samples to link theory with practice.


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