How to Write a Critical Analysis Paper
A critical analysis is necessary when you deal with a given point of view manifested in a book, article, movie, and so forth. You should know that to be critical does not imply really ďcriticizing,Ē but rather analyzing some formal (related to external form) and substantial (related to contents) aspects of the given point of view, theory, doctrine, idea, etc.. It is true that the easiest way for carrying out such an analysis is to merely list the negative sides of the given view, but this does not always work. The current short guide will make you familiar with the main points of writing a critical analysis paper.
How to write a critical analysis paper Ė 8 essential tips
A critical analysis essay is a paper which considers different sides of a given point of view and checks its veracity, consistency and reliability. A critical analysis paper is not the same as an exposition essay, for the latter only presents the given point of view (or the plot of a book, or a short story, etc.) without critical study. At any event, the bigger part of your essay needs to be focused on critical analysis, and only one small part (around one-fourth or even one-fifth) has the function of a presentation.
2. Critical reading
Once a topic is assigned, the first thing you need to do is to go to the library (physical or online) and search for the appropriate literature for your essay. If the topic concerns only one book, you can take it and read it two times. If it concerns a theory or the development of an idea, then you will need to use more comprehensive list of literature. In the first case the book should be read two times in the following way: the first reading is necessary in order to get to know the book. The second reading is required for taking notes and marking some important quotes.
Remember to always take notes of the ideas, sentences, and passages which are fundamental for your essay. You will not have enough time to search for the same quotes once more.
Try to comprehend the main idea which needs to be elaborated. In order to do this it is allowed to use secondary literature (i.e. other analyses of the particular topic or idea). If the idea still does not look clear to you, you can ask your teacher for help - he/she will recommend you something for reading which will make the idea clearer.
Letís say, your topic is related to Sigmund Freudís work The Interpretation of Dreams. First you need to read the book by Freud, but because of the fact it is full of special terms, you have to check their meaning in the dictionary. Then you should read more about Freudís theory (secondary literature).
3. Outlining your essay
An outline should be drafted long before you start writing the essay. Your outline has to contain all basic points of your essay. The outline can be changed and modified further without any problem; in all cases, when you start writing the essay itself, you will not be able to change these basic points.
Here is a sample outline related to the theory manifested in Freudís Interpretation of Dreams:
-Title of your essay
-Introduction: Freudís psychoanalytical method was exposed for the first time in his book The Interpretation of Dreams. The current essay will analyze his arguments and major ideas.
(Main part of the essay)
-Exposition of Freudís ideas as manifested in the particular book: Freud demonstrates that dreams are tightly bound to the Subconscious. They deal with symbols which express the contents of the Subconscious - in most cases it is of sexual nature). These symbols can be interpreted by an expert in order to get more information about the mental condition of the given person.
-Evaluation of Freudís ideas according to their formal aspects: consistency, lack of contradictory points, reliability (here you need to list all these aspects one by one).
-Evaluation of the essence of Freudís ideas (here you need to analyze the negative and positive sides of Freudís theory). The advantage of Freudís theory comes from his formulating the method of psychoanalysis which would prove to be effective and influential. There are still some weak points. The weakest point is his emphasis on the sexual character of the contents of the Subconscious.
-Conclusion: today Freudís theory seems out-of-date, but it helped the science of Psychology to find one of its most important methods - Psychoanalysis.
The particular idea/s you need to analyze should be presented clearly and concisely. You have to be as impartial as possible: there is no room here for your comments or remarks. This part comprises only the ideas as exposed by the author, i.e. you have to render them in an objective manner.†
The length of this part should not exceed one-fourth of the overall length of your critical analysis essay (e.g., two pages out of eight). However, do not try to write as much as possible as to fit in this length: you have to present only what is essential (and what you will evaluate and analyze further).
5. Evaluation of the formal aspects
Here two main factors are included: reliability and consistency. Reliability is the property of a piece of information to be conceived as true, or at least as having a verified source. A theory or idea cannot be reliable; only arguments, proofs, data, and statistics are considered to be reliable. The arguments of Freud are reliable since they have been checked many times by other researchers. But if Freud himself cites other researchers, you need to check reliability of their arguments.
Consistency means that there are no contradictions in the analyzed piece of text, and that the thesis (theses) expressed there is/are directly related to the arguments. Consistency can also be affiliated with the logic of the book (or theory), i.e. the piece of text has to correspond to the laws of logic.
This part can take around one-fourth of the whole length of the essay.
6. Evaluation of the contents
You can evaluate the contents according to its veracity. That means, whether the presented idea/theory is true or false. Therefore, you need to refer to other researchers and their arguments in favor or against the cited theory. Of course, you can present only your own ideas by advancing your arguments. In the case with Freud you can refer to latter research which shows that the Subconscious contains not only sexual ideas. You could also criticize the method of Freud who tries to establish universal laws of interpretation of dreams (but this can be part of the formal evaluation as well).
Do not forget that you are doing research, not merely a comment on Freud. That means you have to present objective arguments in favor of your point of view.
(The length of this part should be the same as the previous one).
The conclusion of your critical analysis paper can have several forms. Two of the most popular forms are: recapitulation (presenting the main points of your paper in short), perspectives (evaluating what else should be examined in order to gain clearer idea about the analyzed theory).
Remember to insert references to the quotes or periphrases used in your critical analysis paper. Your reader should have the opportunity to check whether the sources used are reliable. The academic style for reference should be employed according to the particular field of your topic. Three are the major styles in Humanities and Social sciences: MLA, APA, and Chicago.
Freud, Sigmund. The interpretation of dreams. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913. Print.
Freud, S. (1913). The interpretation of dreams. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913.
Your critical analysis paper will have success provided you have presented your own views there. Do not refer too often to other researchers because in this manner you will put in doubt your own critical skills. Try to be yourself and present your own thoughts and arguments.†
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