How to Write a Critical Essay

In this guide you will find:

  • What is a Critical Essay
  • Step by Step Guide to Writing a Critical Paper
  • Various Types of Critical Essays
  • Critical Essay Structure

What is a Critical Essay

Critical Essay Definition: A critical essay is a piece of writing intended to analyze, interpret or evaluate a specific text or other media forms.

More specifically, this type of critical paper is normally viewed by academic audiences and typically supports an argument made by the writer.

The goal of a critical essay is to enable writers to hone their critical writing skills. Additionally, the paper should present readers with a thought-provoking explanation or the writer’s interpretation of the medium being critiqued. Furthermore, anyone authoring a critical analysis could be asked to position their thoughts around a specific theme in a book or film on a much broader spectrum. Specifically, writing critically requires the keen ability to weigh what the original author or director might have been attempting to say to their original audience and to explain that in a manner that the new audience can understand.

There are many goals for critical writing, including:

  • Offering an objective view of the original writer or painter or director’s work
  • Offering a complete analysis of the consistency of the original author’s work
  • Offering a thorough assessment of the original author’s work and capability to maintain and support their primary argument or concept
  • Presenting the strengths and weaknesses of an article or journal entry
  • Criticizing the work of the original writer or artist

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Step by Step Guide to Writing a Critical Paper

Writing a critical essay might seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be so. First and foremost, make certain that you understand the requirements and what is expected of you. Often times, students set themselves up for failure by starting their assignment without clearly understanding the assignment details.

Step One: Know what is expected: If you are uncertain of the details of the assignment, ask for clarification.

Step Two: Develop a strong understanding of the source material. The source material will come in the form of a book, a film, a piece or art of some other media. You will be asked to create a critical paper that analyzes all or part of the source material. Students are cautioned to take care and consider everything from the source material that might enhance their essay. If you are asked to critique a book or film, it is good practice to read (or view) the source material more than once.

Step Three: Write down as many notes as possible when assessing the source material. Taking great notes is the key to success for any critical paper. When reviewing your chosen medium, remember to take note of the key ideas or concepts that the original creator included in their work.

Step Four: Uncover the primary challenges or patterns in the work being critiqued. Once you’ve reviewed the text or film, or whatever other media you were reviewing, next you will need to identify any key challenges, patterns or problems that might exist. As you note these aspects, other issues or key concepts will begin to emerge. You should be prepared to identify these.

Step Five: Uncover solutions to the problems identified. Next, you will need to offer solutions for the problems or patterns that were identified previously.  By now, you should be on your way to creating your thesis statement.

What are the various types of critical essays

There are several different types of critical analysis that a student authoring a critical review paper might be asked to write. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Sociological Criticism
  • Reader-response Criticism
  • Gender Criticism
  • Mythological Criticism
  • Biographical Criticism
  • New Historicism
  • Psychoanalytical Criticism
  • Formalist Criticism

Critical Essay Structure

Every essay, regardless of topic or nature, follows a standard structure which includes the introduction (or thesis statement), the body paragraphs, and the conclusion (or closing statement.) In order for the essay to be considered ‘whole’ each of these parts must be included. That being said, prior to tackling each of these sections, you must first draft an outline suitable for a critical paper. For all papers of this nature, the outline is important because it presents writers with the opportunity to begin to build a roadmap for their essay. If you would like to get some further assistance with your essay, consider using one of the academic services:

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The Introduction

The introduction of your essay should offer a clear description of the topic being reviewed. Your introductory statement should be concise, but thorough enough to allow the reader to determine what your focus will be.

Tips for writing a strong thesis statement:

  • Remember to embed your thesis statement into your introduction, typically within the first few sentences.
  • Be as clear as possible
  • Avoid cliché statements.
  • Be as specific as you can, and speak to the main purpose of your paper.

The Body

In the body of your essay, every sentence should communicate the point. Each paragraph must support your thesis statement either by offering a claim or presenting an argument. These should be followed up with evidence. Most critical essays will have three to six paragraphs, unless the requirements state otherwise.

The Conclusion

The conclusion of a critical essay is no different than the conclusion of any other type of essay. You should restate your thesis statement and summarize your key argument. It is wise to leave the reader with something to consider or a strong statement that ties into your essay as a whole. Your goal is to leave the reader with the desire to want to learn more, or the urge to research the topic more on their own free time.

There are some stages and rules which you should follow in case you want to know how to write a good research paper.

Critical Essay Outline

The outline for your essay will be similar, regardless of the topic chosen. However, for example’s sake, let’s pretend you are writing a critical essay on the topic “The Female Authority in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, the outline would look like the one depicted below:

The Female Authority in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


  • Explain how females are presented as the authority
  • Provide a brief description of Nurse Ratched’s character and the other supporting female characters
  • Provide a key event in the book that position women as evil or oppressive


  • Assess the differences between the male and female population
  • Provide an analysis of why the women are the authority and the men are the patients
  • Include an explanation of why the female characters are seen as oppressive and manipulative

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  • Restate the opening argument or thesis statement. Remember to mention why you’ve made the argument you’ve presented.
  • Offer a summary of the main points mentioned.

The above-mentioned outline can be customized and tailored to be used for any topic. The key is to always focus on the headings Introduction, Body and Conclusion and to drill down from there, adding three or four key concepts or ideas to each heading and beginning to use that as the framework for your essay.

As you complete your outline, move on to your rough draft, writing quickly, and including each of the key points or challenges you found in your initial review.

From here, you will move on to your final copy. This is where you will pay close attention to detail, spelling, grammar and accuracy of facts. It might even be helpful to have someone else read your essay to make sure that it is easy to understand and engaging.

Finding Examples of Critical Essays Online

As noted above, there are several best practices that can be deployed when authoring a critical analysis paper. However, if you still find yourself stuck, a simple online search can turn up dozens of examples of critical essays that you can use to help you develop your own outline, or to inspire source material, or to simply provide you with an overview of what is expected of anyone authoring a critical review essay.

Here are a few sources for essay samples to get you started:


Remember that the samples mentioned above are only intended to serve as a guide. In no way should you ever take content you’ve found online and attempt to pass it off as your own. If you need additional help to get your paper done, you can order your own plagiarism-free sample.

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