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How to Write a Critical Essay

Overview: What is a Critical Essay? 

From magazine profiles to book length treatises, critical essays allow an in-depth critical examination of a topic in a structured format. As the writer of such an essay, you are allowed to express your views on a subject as long as you support your argument thoroughly. Choosing a compelling topic and expressing an articulate and focused viewpoint on that topic in a structured, logical format, are vital components of any successful critical essay. 

Specificity in Topic Choice 

By their very nature, critical essays can be written on any subject. The difference between a poorly written essay and a successful one has to do with topic choice. Your thesis, which is essentially your viewpoint about the topic, should be as specific as possible. As an example, a critical essay about British musical culture should attempt to address a particular aspect of the culture, such as, “innovative lyricists flourished in British musical culture in the 1990's.” This is a better choice than attempting to write a critical essay on British musical culture as a whole, because the topic is too broad for the purposes of a compelling essay. 

Composing an Outline 

Once you have selected a topic, you may begin to plot out the course of your essay by composing an outline. An outline is an extremely helpful tool in writing your essay. You will save time and be able to focus your research by planning ahead.

Also, your outline will help you create a larger structure. Although the critical essay is based off your thesis, being able to create a compelling series of supporting arguments that follow each other in a sensible narrative line will only help the overall strength of your essay.

For a five page critical essay, you should have between five and eight major supporting examples. Each of these examples should then be broken down into individual supporting sentences. You should have between 3 to 5 points that make up each major example.

Now that you've created your outline, you're ready to begin researching. 

Accurate and Thorough Research 

Research can be the most interesting and the most time consuming part of writing a critical essay. In the course of your research, you may discover information that is fascinating but ultimately does not fit within the confines of your essay. Surprisingly, the best essays are those that adhere as closely to the topic as possible. Tangents only bog down your essay, and tire your reader. But what if something seems relevant, and later you discover that it is extraneous?

When conducting your research, try to focus on your topic. If you find information that may apply to your essay, include it for the time being. You can remove it later. 

Proper Formatting 

Now that you have chosen a topic, prepared your outline and assembled the information for your essay, you may begin to write. You will need to write in a clear, concise format; most successful critical essays stay away from overheated prose and convoluted sentence structure. Remember, your role as a writer is to convey your information in the clearest way possible, so that your reader can understand what you are trying to communicate. 

Editing Your Essay 

Once you have composed your essay, read it over for clarity. Do your examples support your thesis? At the end of the essay, have you effectively argued your point and avoided any tangential information?

If you can answer yes to these questions, you have successfully composed a critical essay.