Starting A Critique Essay

What is a critique?

A critique is a genre of academic writing that briefly summarises and critically evaluates a work or concept. Critiques can be used to carefully analyse a variety of works such as:

  • Creative works – novels, exhibits, film, images, poetry
  • Research – monographs, journal articles, systematic reviews, theories
  • Media –  news reports, feature articles

Like an essay, a critique uses a formal, academic writing style and has a clear structure, that is, an introduction, body and conclusion.   However, the body of a critique includes a summary of the work and a detailed evaluation.  The purpose of an  evaluation is to gauge the usefulness or impact of a work in a particular field. 

Why do we write critiques?

Writing a critique on a work helps us to develop:

  • A  knowledge of the work’s subject area or related works.
  • An understanding of the work’s purpose, intended audience, development of argument, structure of evidence or creative style.
  • A recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of the work.

How to write a critique

Before you start writing, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the work that will be critiqued.

  • Study the work under discussion.
  • Make notes on key parts of the work.
  • Develop an understanding of the main argument or purpose being expressed in the work. 
  • Consider how the work relates to a broader issue or context.

There are a variety of ways to structure a critique. You should always check your unit materials or blackboard site for guidance from your lecturer.  The following template, which showcases the main features of a critique, is provided as one example.

Introduction

Typically, the introduction is short (less than 10% of the word length) and you should:

  • Name the work being reviewed as well as the date it was created and the name of the author/creator.  
  • Describe the main argument or purpose of the work.
  • Explain the context in which the work was created.  This could include the social or political context, the place of the work in a creative or academic tradition, or the relationship between the work and the creator’s life experience. 
  • Have a concluding sentence that signposts what your evaluation of the work will be. For instance, it may indicate whether it is a positive, negative, or mixed evaluation.

Summary

Briefly summarise the main points and objectively describe how the creator portrays these  by using  techniques, styles, media, characters or symbols.  This summary should not be the focus of the critique and is usually shorter than the critical evaluation.

Critical evaluation

This section should give a systematic and detailed assessment of the different elements of the work, evaluating how well the creator was able to achieve the purpose through these.  For example: you would assess the plot structure, characterisation and setting of a novel; an assessment of a painting would look at composition, brush strokes, colour and light; a critique of a research project would look at subject selection, design of the experiment, analysis of data and conclusions.    

A critical evaluation does not simply highlight negative impressions. It should deconstruct the work and identify both strengths and weaknesses. It should examine the work and evaluate its success, in light of its purpose.

Examples of key critical questions that could help your assessment include:

  • Who is the creator? Is the work presented objectively or subjectively?
  • What are the aims of the work? Were the aims achieved?
  • What techniques, styles, media were used in the work?  Are they effective in portraying the purpose? 
  • What assumptions underlie the work? Do they affect its validity?
  • What types of evidence or persuasion are used? Has evidence been interpreted fairly?
  • How is the work structured?  Does it favour a particular interpretation or point of view? Is it effective?
  • Does the work enhance understanding of key ideas or theories? Does the work engage (or fail to engage) with key concepts or other works in its discipline?

This evaluation is written in formal academic style and logically presented. Group and order your ideas into paragraphs. Start with the broad impressions first and then move into the details of the technical elements.   For shorter critiques, you may discuss the strengths of the works, and then the weaknesses. In longer critiques, you may wish to discuss the positive and negative of each key critical question in individual paragraphs.

To support the evaluation, provide evidence from the work itself, such as a quote or example, and you should also cite evidence from related sources. Explain how this evidence supports your evaluation of the work.

Conclusion

This is usually a very brief paragraph, which includes:

  • A statement indicating the overall evaluation of the work
  • A summary of the key reasons, identified during the critical evaluation, why this evaluation was formed.
  • In some circumstances, recommendations for improvement on the work may be appropriate.    

Reference list

Include all resources cited in your critique. Check with your lecturer/tutor for which referencing style to use.

 

Checklist for a critique

Have I:

  • Mentioned the name of the work, the date of its creation and the name of the creator?
  • Accurately summarised the work being critiqued?
  • Mainly focused on the critical evaluation of the work?
  • Systematically outlined an evaluation of each element of the work to achieve the overall purpose?
  • used evidence, from the work itself as well as other sources, to back and illustrate my assessment of elements of of the work?
  • formed an overall evaluation of the work, based on critical reading?
  • used a well structured introduction, body and conclusion?
  • used correct grammar, spelling and punctuation; clear presentation; and appropriate referencing style?

Further information

University of New South Wales - some general criteria for evaluating works

University of Toronto - The book review or article critique

Critique papers require students to conduct a critical analysis of another piece of writing, often a book, journal article, or essay. No matter what your major is, you will probably be expected to write a critique paper at some point. For psychology students, critiquing a professional paper is a great way to learn more about psychology articles, writing, and the research process itself. Students can analyze how researchers conduct experiments, interpret results and discuss the impact of the results.

While these tips are designed to help students writing a psychology critique paper, many of the same principles apply to writing critiques in other subject areas as well.

Start By Reading the Material You Are Going to Critique

The first step should always be to do a thorough read-through of the material you will be analyzing and critiquing. More than just a casual skim, however, your reading needs to be in-depth with an eye toward certain elements. 

Following these steps can help you make better sense of the material as you assess what you are reading.

1. Read the introduction section of the article.

Is the hypothesis clearly stated? Is necessary background information and previous research described in the introduction? In addition to answering these basic questions, you should take note of information provided in the introduction and any questions that you may have.

2. Read the methods section of the article.

Is the study procedure clearly outlined? Can you determine which variables the researchers are measuring? Remember to jot down questions and thoughts that come to mind as you are reading. Once you have finished reading the paper, you can then refer back to your initial questions and see which once remain unanswered.

3. Read the results section of the article.

Are all tables and graphs clearly labeled? Do researchers provide enough statistical information? Did the researchers collect all of the data needed to measure the variables in question? Again, make note of any questions you have or any information that does not seem to make sense. You can refer back to these questions later as you are writing your final critique.

4. Read the discussion section of the article.

How do the researchers interpret the results of the study? Did the results support their hypothesis? Do the conclusions drawn by the researchers seem reasonable? The discussion section offers students a good opportunity to take a position. If you agree with the researchers conclusions, explain why. If you feel that the researchers are incorrect or off-base, point out problems with the conclusions and suggest alternative explanations. Another alternative is to point out questions that the researchers failed to answer in the discussion section.

Begin Writing Your Own Critique of the Paper

Once you have read the article, compile your notes and develop an outline that you can follow as you write your psychology critique paper.  Use the following guide to help structure your critique paper:

1. Introduction

Begin your paper by describing the journal article and authors you are critiquing. Provide the main hypothesis or thesis of the paper and explain why you think the information is relevant.

2. Thesis Statement

The final part of your introduction should include your thesis statement. Your thesis statement is the main idea of your critique. Your thesis should briefly sum up the main points of your critique.

3. Article Summary

Provide a brief summary of the article, outlining the main points, results and discussion. Be careful not to get too bogged down by your summary. Remember, this section of your paper should highlight the main points of the article you are critiquing.

Don't feel obligated to summarize each little detail of the main paper. Focus instead on giving the reader an overall idea of the content of the article.

3. Your Analysis

In this section, you should provide your critique of the article. Describe any problems you had with the authors premise, methods, or conclusions. Your critique might focus on problems with the authors argument, presentation or on information, and alternatives that have been overlooked. Organize your paper carefully and be careful not to jump around from one argument to the next. Argue one point at a time. Doing this will ensure that your paper flow's well and is easy to read.

4. Conclusion

Your critique paper should end with an overview of the articles argument, your conclusions and your reactions.

More Tips When Writing a Psychology Critique Paper

  1. As you are editing your paper, utilize a style guide published by the American Psychological Association, such as the  official Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
  2. Reading scientific articles can be difficult. Learn more about how to read (and understand) psychology journal articles.
  3. Take a rough draft of your paper to your school's writing lab for additional assistance.

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