Critical essay


A critical essay is an analytical piece of writing about a movie, book, essay, performance, or other pieces. However, it is important to note that it is not a review. This is because while a review addresses a piece in its entirety, and whether or not the piece is successful in its aim, a critical essay usually focuses on just one or two elements. For example, a critical essay written about a film may only evaluate the historical accuracy of the dialogue. Another on the same film might focus solely on the relationships between the major characters.

Speaking of films, in the nineties it became very popular for film students to write critical essays on M Night Shyamalan's movie The 6th Sense, and its use of symbolism. Some even focused solely on the use of color by the director.

In a critical essay, the thesis is the author’s opinion on the specific element or elements that they are creating. For example, their thesis may be that the film did not maintain sufficient historical accuracy when it came to dialogue. The resulting paragraphs in the body of the essay would, of course, support that thesis. To learn more about writing a critical essay, keep reading!

Steps to Follow

While there is no universally correct approach to writing a critical essay, try following these steps. They will most likely send you down the right path.

  1. Be Sure You Have a Grasp of The Assignment

This is not an assignment you wish to tackle until you are absolutely confident in terms of what the details are. For example, you will want to know if there is a specific piece for you to critique, or if you may select one. Should a piece be within a specific genre, or is that up to you? Next, which elements are subject to your critique. Your instructor may be okay with you selecting those or they may be predetermined for you. If you are not completely sure with how to proceed, get clarification.

  1. If Applicable Select The Piece to Criticize

If you are choosing a piece to criticize, that is your next step. Your choice should be accessible and interesting to you. Whether or not you should choose something in which you are emotionally invested depends. It can certainly make the assignment more interesting and meaningful to you if it does. On the other hand, if you are being asked to deliver a critique that is more analytical, your emotional response could be problematic.

  1. Create a Preliminary List And do Your Initial Research

Before you consume the piece, take time to write a list. This might be of questions you have, things you will be looking for, even assumptions that you may have. These may not be the only things you cover in your essay. In fact, you may even eliminate some from consideration. However, it’s important not to start without something. One of the best ways to create that list is to do some initial research. For example, if you are writing an essay on a play, you might research the playwright and their past work.

  1. Decide The Best Ways) to Experience The Piece

Speaking of research, you should always consider how the creator or presenter of the piece wants it consumed. Objectively, that is the fairest way to experience, analyze, and criticize it.  While it may not be possible to duplicate this completely, reasonable effort should be made.

  1. Take Notes Immediately After And Then After a Period of Time

The notes you take immediately following will reflect your initial thoughts and reactions. This is important because they can be a good indicator of the success of a piece. The notes you take after a delay reflect your reaction after a bit of thought. That’s important as well.

  1. Determine Your Thesis

The next step is to create your thesis. Remember that this is an analysis. Your thesis does not need to be binary successful/unsuccessful. It’s okay to be nuanced. In fact, it’s desirable. For example, a filmmaker might not have used dialogue accurately. On the other hand, by doing so they may have made the film more accessible to mainstream audiences.

  1. Write an Outline And Rough Draft

As with most papers, you will get the best results by creating an outline and following that up with a rough draft. This is the perfect time to eliminate points that really don’t stand up. You can also use this step to really organize your thoughts.

  1. Create And Edit The Final Copy

If you have done all of the preliminary work, this stage should be pretty easy. You are just polishing things up and ensuring you are clear and concise.

Points to Think About

Here are some additional things to consider:

  • It is important to keep historical perspective in mind.

  • Make sure you have plenty of time to dedicate to your analysis

  • If others are writing on the same topic, as study group can be a real help.

Mistakes to Avoid

Here are some mistakes to avoid.

  • Waiting until the last minute.

  • Selecting a topic that you will struggle to understand.

  • Choosing a topic that is beneath your grade level or ability

Dos And Don’ts

  • Get clarification if you are unsure of something
  • Work hard to be objective
  • Leave time to process and experience the piece
  • Avoid a topic because it isn’t what you would normally be interested in
  • Fail to get help from your writing lab or other resources if you need it
  • Confuse a critical essay with negative criticism or a review

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