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How to Write a Critical Essay

Updated: Apr 19, 2016
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Somewhere along the way in a student’s academic career, they will encounter the Critical Essay, whether it be critiquing a work of art, an individual, an organization, or public policy. As daunting as it may seem, if one puts forth the effort and employs these simple, but necessary steps, the essay should basically write itself.


To start off, here is a piece of infographics that will help you visualize the writing process.


The Critical Essay, like most academic papers, is based off of a central thesis, a single, declarative statement that establishes a clear and concise idea with which a reasonable person could disagree.In order to write that first-class Critical Essay, one must first find a topic demonstrating an exigency, meaning something of immediate importance and relevance. The student-writer must conduct thorough research on the topic, acquiring information that not only reinforces their contention, but also information that could oppose their thesis as well. Even though the thesis comes from one’s own opinion, extensive research is required to solidify the student’s position in order to make a critique all the more compelling.


A good way to think of the Critical Essay is from a journalistic point of view, as though the student is a journalist and a paid critic of either art, society, politics, etc.


The Path to a Great Critical Essay

1. Choose a Relevant Topic to Critique and Research, Research, Research


One should aim to choose a topic that holds some kind of personal importance. Since this is an opinion piece, the student is allowed to employ personal feelings about the matter, but only if thesis opinions are well constructed and supported in their entirety by credible sources. To obtain these sources, the student must seek them out from the Internet, television, newspapers, magazines, books, and/or academic journals. The idea is to find credible sources that support the student-writer’s argument and those that support the counter-argument. Research can help to clarify the student-writer’s understanding of the subject and narrow the scope of the thesis.

2. Organization of the Argument and the Outline


In order to present the argument in the clearest and most concise way possible, the student-writer must comb through their findings and find the most relevant information to their topic. The student-writer can then discard all of the useless and less pertinent information to maintain the integrity of the contention. The student should then take all of the valuable information and organize it, building a sound argument. Not matter what kind of outline the student-writer employs, it should result in a clear summary of the argument.

3. The First Draft


The student-writer should keep in mind the basic formula for an essay: there should be a introductory paragraph that introduces the reader to the subject and should always include a clear thesis. In the case of the Critical Essay, the thesis should be structured around the idea the “X” is valid or not. The following body paragraphs should support the Thesis Statement and go into detail describing the qualities and characteristics that make it so. These ideas should be fully supported by only credible sources with citations clearly visible to the reader. The concluding paragraph acts as the opposite of the introduction. If the introduction is saying “hello,” then the conclusion is saying “goodbye.” A bad conclusion is the equivalent of walking out in the middle of a conversation.

4. The Editing Room Floor and the Final Product


With the most difficult part of the essay, the first draft, finished, the student-writer can now take a breath and step away from the assignment for a brief period. This way, the student can look at their work later with fresh eyes in order to reorganize and clarify their argument(s). The student-writer should then carefully proofread for any errors in grammar or punctuation. The last step before the student-writer turns in their Critical Essay is to read over a printed copy of their essay. Then, and only then, can they submit the work and get the high marks they so deserve.


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