If you’re assigned to write a critique and your first thought is, “I have absolutely no idea how to write a critique,” that’s understandable.
But in all actuality, you probably already have a sense of how to critique.
Think about trying a new corner deli. The first time you visit, you evaluate the deli based on all sorts of things, such as the sandwich selection, cleanliness, atmosphere, and location.
Based on your dining experience that day, you critique the deli.
When you buy a new phone, you’re also completing a critique. You evaluate the phone based not only on its price but also on its features, such as its camera, battery life, and storage capabilities.
See? You’re already critiquing things. Your task now is simply to transfer your well-honed critiquing skills to a formal, academic essay and actually write a critique.
Here’s how you do it.
How to Write a Critique (That Doesn’t Suck)
I know writing can be stressful. Writing a type of essay that you’ve never tackled before can be even more stressful. But remember, you already know how to critique.
Simply translate your skills into writing, and follow these two basic steps to learn how to write a critique successfully.
Step 1: Know your purpose for writing a critique
It’s a given that you’re writing a critique because your prof assigned it, but that’s not what I mean when I say “know your purpose.” In this case, I mean that you need to know the purpose for the critique itself.
Let’s say you’re critiquing an article about poverty. The information you include will change depending on your purpose for the critique.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a sociology paper, and the purpose of your critique is to evaluate an article to determine whether it’s a useful research source. To do so, you might examine the writer’s arguments, evidence, and logic.
On the other hand, if you’re in a linguistics class and you’re critiquing the same article, your purpose might be to evaluate how well the writer uses language to convey his/her message. In this case, you might evaluate the tone, word choices, and sentence structures.
Knowing your purpose for writing a critique is also crucial if you’re in a lit class. Your critique of a novel, such as Fahrenheit 451, will change depending on your purpose for the critique.
For example, if you’re writing a literary analysis (or literary criticism) about Fahrenheit 451, your purpose might be to evaluate the novel and examine how it fits into the dystopian genre of literature.
In this case, you might look for elements such as a ruler or oppressor, a protagonist who fights to change society, and an ending that leaves readers wondering about the future of current society.
On the other hand, if you’re reading the same piece of literature and studying theme, your purpose might be to evaluate Fahrenheit 451 and write about the themes of technology or literature.
The takeaway: Your purpose for writing a critique will determine which elements of the work you’ll actually critique.
If you’re not sure why you’re writing the critique, check your assignment guidelines. And if you’re still unsure after that, ask your prof for clarification.
Step 2: Determine key points to critique
Now that you know that your purpose for writing a critique will determine what you critique, how do you decide what is or isn’t important to evaluate? Here’s what to look for.
In a nonfiction critique, you’re evaluating what the author has written and how he/she presents information.
Here are a few questions you might ask yourself as you complete your nonfiction critique:
- What is the purpose of the article? For instance, does the writer attempt to persuade, to inform, or to convince the reader to take action?
- Does the writer achieve this purpose?
- Are the writer’s arguments well-developed and/or supported with effective evidence?
- Who is the audience for the article?
- How does the writer use language? For instance, is the piece sarcastic, rude, or funny?
- What effect does language have on the audience? Does it persuade them to agree? Might the language offend readers?
- How does this article fit into the larger conversation, such as other research articles, professional discussions, etc?
If you’re looking for even more advice on analyzing articles, check out these resources:
When you’re critiquing literature, you’re also examining how the author presents information. But in addition, you’ll also examine literary devices and how they’re used.
Here are a few questions you might ask yourself as you complete your literary critique:
- What is the theme of the piece?
- What was the author’s purpose for writing the piece? (For instance, was the work created as a cautionary tale? Was the work meant to scare readers?)
- How does the piece fit into its specific genre?
- How do characters develop throughout the story?
- What other literary devices are used in the story, and how do they affect elements such as the plot, characters, and theme?
If you want to learn more about analyzing literature, read these posts:
What to Avoid When Writing a Critique
At this point, you should have a pretty good sense of how to write a critique, but it’s just as important to know what you should avoid.
Avoid writing all-positive or all-negative critiques
When you critique something, you should objectively evaluate its merits. This means that a critique is rarely all positive or all negative.
Sure, if you’re evaluating a professional journal article, it’s easy to say that it’s well-written. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t disagree with something or that you can’t address the fact that the article fails to address important arguments.
The same is true with fiction. You might absolutely love The Hunger Games and claim it as your all-time favorite. But if you really think hard enough, there might also be one or two things that really irk you about the novel and don’t quite seem to work.
Avoid focusing too heavily on summary
Whether you’re critiquing fiction or nonfiction, it’s important to include some amount of summary. But you should assume that your audience has already read the piece you’re critiquing.
There’s no need to retell the entire story or rehash all the details of a research article. Doing so adds length in the form of useless content. It doesn’t add any value to your critique.
So where should you place the summary in the context of your paper?
It’s a smart idea to include a summary of the work toward the beginning of your critique (usually after the introduction paragraph).
The summary should be long enough to include the main points of what you’re critiquing—but much shorter than the actual evaluation section of your essay.
Avoid critiquing everything
Remember, when writing a critique, you should choose a few important points. You’re not trying to write about everything you can possibly think of.
For example, if you’re critiquing an opinion article in a conservative publication, it might be worth noting the intended audience. The writer wouldn’t only make specific choices about content but would also use specific word choices to reach a conservative audience.
On the other hand, if you’re critiquing an article published in a scientific journal, the writer is reporting factual information to a science-literate audience. In this case, discussing the intended audience isn’t as relevant.
Likewise, if you’re writing about literature and critiquing a novel with no symbolism, there usually isn’t any point of writing about the lack of symbolism.
If the focus of your critique is imagery, it usually wouldn’t make sense to devote the bulk of your critique to how the novel fits into the horror genre.
Avoid choosing random points to critique
While you’ll certainly need to select a few key elements to critique, don’t just pick the first points you think of that you believe will fill a few pages.
It’s crucial that you have a focus for your critique and tie your main ideas together with a strong thesis statement.
For instance, if you’re critiquing a newspaper editorial, you might focus on the writer’s arguments. Your critique could evaluate whether the writer does the following:
- Uses enough evidence to create successful arguments
- Makes persuasive arguments
- Uses effective language to convince an audience
If you’re critiquing a short story, you might focus on theme. Your critique could evaluate the plot, characters, and ultimate resolution of the story to determine whether the writer successfully portrays the intended theme.
In both of these examples, the critique includes several main ideas but then ties them together with a common focus, such as argument or theme.
Critique by Example
If you’re thinking that all this advice sounds great but you’d still like to see a few finished essays to see how to write a critique and pull it all together, here are some example essays to help inspire your creative genius:
- An Analysis of the British Society in Hard Times, a Novel by Charles Dickens
- An Analysis of Sam Harris’s Article “The Power of Bad Incentives”
Of course, writing isn’t the only possible subject of a critique. You might critique (among other things) a work of art, a film, an advertisement, or a political poster. If you’re interested in reading an example critique of some of these topics, check out the following:
- A Critique of Village Girl-Lily Cow, a Painting by Robert Henri
- A Critique of The Raft of the Medusa, a Painting by Theodore Gericault
- A Critique of Bowling for Columbine, a Documentary by Michael Moore
- An Analysis of the Kraft Zesty Guy Advertisement
Once you’ve finished your essay and are in need of someone to critique your own writing, reach out to a Kibin editor for comments, corrections, and feedback.