What are Critical Essays?

Critical essays are a review or critique of another author’s work, often a piece of work related to the arts, e.g., a movie, play, book, or piece of artwork. This type of essay is, however, more than a mere summing up of what is contained in another work or the writer’s opinion of the work’s value. Rather, it is an objectively written analysis of a given work where the writer examines both the negative and positive qualities.

A critical essay is an informative piece of writing with emphasis on the work under analysis rather than the writer’s opinion. Any claims or observations should be supported with strong evidence. Because of this, you should not write from the first person perspective.   

Adhering to the usual format for an essay – i.e. with a title, introductory paragraph, some main body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph – is a good way to approach this type of essay. 

How to Format a Critical Essay

Develop your essay title: Most essays examine only one topic. Since the critical essay format requires the writer to support every point they make with concrete evidence, it is a lot easier to focus on one element of a work instead of the whole thing. So, bear this in mind when selecting a title for your essay.

For example, if you are analyzing “Star Wars,” you could focus your essay on how dialogue is used in the franchise. With critical essay writing, however, this reduced topic may even be too broad ranging. You could narrow it down even more to, say, how the odd dialogue used by Yoda contributes or how Darth Vader’s character is enhanced by James Earl Jones’ voice.   

The introductory paragraph: This section is used to introduce the writer’s topic, such as the title of the work being analyzed and the name of the artist or author who created the particular work. This paragraph also sets out the writer’s position towards the work and outlines in brief terms the reasons that caused them to develop the arguments that will follow in the essay’s body paragraphs.

Helpful hint: Provide any historical or relevant background information to emphasize how the work is important and why you are evaluating it.

Main body paragraphs: The body section in a critical essay should set out any information or data to support the writer’s stance.  

Arguments should be developed with the use of facts and/or examples that explain the writer’s position. You could also compare your opinion to other expert opinion while undertaking a full evaluation of a given work. Every statement should be followed and supported with strong evidence.

  • A critical essay should examine in brief terms the opinions of others on a particular work. This helps strengthen the writer’s position. It is advisable to use expert opinion that both agrees with and opposes your own point of view.
  • Make optimum use of evidence a) to demonstrate why the conclusion you reached is more valid than contrary views, b) to examine the validity of other writers’ reasoning, and c) to assess the strength of their final conclusions in comparison to your own.
  • In addition to these comparisons, you should provide anecdotes, facts, statistics and examples.
  • Look for substantiating evidence within the work you are analyzing, in any analyses that have been written by others on this particular work, and by using outside sources e.g. in biographies, etc.

Useful Tips:

  • Use paragraphs for every point, and use transitions to move from one point to the next. This helps improve flow.
  • In addition to ensuring all paragraphs are well organized, check the organization of your whole essay and make sure all information is well ordered.

The concluding paragraph: This section should reiterate your particular position and sum-up how the provided evidence substantiates your viewpoint. The work’s title and author’s name should also be restated in the concluding paragraph.

Finishing Touches

A critical essay is generally an informative, authoritative and fact-based review founded on expert opinion and strong evidence. Adding the right finishing touches can lend authority to your work:

  • It is vital to correctly cite sources and add a list of any sources used at the end of your essay, especially since a lot of the information will be the viewpoints and opinions of other people. The MLA citation style is often used in critical essay writing.
  • Do not forget to proofread your work. Errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling can affect credibility.

While considerable effort is needed to find good evidence to support an essay’s points, the extra work will make you appear knowledgeable. In overall terms, this type of essay can be easier than writing from the first person perspective!