Analyze (definition): examine methodically and in detail the constitution or structure of (something, especially information), typically for purposes of explanation and interpretation.

A critical analysis involves reading an article or book, watching a movie, or examining a painting and then determining whether the creator of the work was effective in expressing their intent. If the subject of the critical analysis is an academic journal, the thesis will be easy for the reader to spot. This will not likely be the case with movies or artwork. In those particular cases, the essay should seek to identify the main theme (if it is a narrative) or purpose (in the case of a painting whether it is a battle scene from the Renaissance or a modern art piece consisting of random patterns). While part of the essay can focus on how well the author, filmmaker or artist is able to appeal to the reader or viewer, it should ultimately examine the effectiveness of the work in a broader sense. Consider these two key questions as you begin planning your essay:

  • What is the context of the argument or theme and what compels the person responsible for creating the article, movie or artwork to express it?
  • If the subject being analyzed is an article with a thesis, does the author propose any realistic solutions? If it is a film or artwork, does it present social commentary in an effective way?

If you are unsure how to write an analysis essay, this article will provide helpful tips including a step-by-step process for writing one, and an outline of a “how to write a critical analysis paper” example.

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How to Write a Critical Analysis Essay Step by Step

Define paragraphs. Like virtually all essays, you will need to separate the paper into clearly defined paragraphs. You will begin with an introduction that includes the thesis. Introduction paragraph examples are easy to find online if you are looking for guidance. The body of the paper (typically three paragraphs) comes next, followed by the conclusion.

Identify the main points. By understanding the main points of the subject being examined, you will be able to assess its structure. If you are analyzing a study, you will be able to find the main ideas at the beginning of each paragraph in the body of the paper. If the subject is a narrative or artwork, identify its purpose and determine what the author or artist has done to support their point of view.

Prepare to do some research. In order to do a critical analysis, you should have some familiarity with the topic. Look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary and skim through articles in order to better understand the material. While it is unnecessary to do deep, thorough research, you should at least have a good enough understanding that you can put together a quality paper.

Outline or summarize the work. As you do this, try using your own words. This will not only ensure that you have a proper understanding of the subject being analyzed, but it will also convey this to the reader. Keep it brief; one or two paragraphs will suffice.

If applicable, identify the modes of persuasion. Authors attempt to convince the reader through the use of pathos, logos, and ethos.

Pathos involves evoking emotions from the audience. Logos entails persuading the audience through logic and reason. Ethos is about the author establishing credibility by emphasizing their personal or professional background, or through their scholarly authority.

Ask yourself whether the author/artist succeeds in carrying out their intent.

  • On an emotional level, how did you feel about the article, movie, or artwork? Why did you respond this way?
  • Was the creator logical and reasonable as they produced their work? Did they express themselves with clarity, accuracy, and cohesiveness?
  • How would you assess the credibility of the author or artist? What are the reasons for your reaching this conclusion?

Balance out the strengths and weaknesses. You should be able to identify things that you liked and disliked about the article, movie, or artwork. If your assessment was more positive on the whole, start by discussing the weaknesses before proceeding with the positive, and vise versa if your critique is negative. If you have a mixed opinion about a certain argument, start with the strengths before discussing the weaknesses.

Point out any issues with which there is strong disagreement. If the topic is controversial, make sure to discuss both sides and determine whether the author was able to make a convincing case in his/her favor.

Conclude with your final judgment. In your essay’s conclusion, begin by mentioning your thesis or general opinion about the article, film, or artwork one last time.

  • Provide feedback on how the author or creator could have better made their case.
  • Limit your conclusion to around 10% of the overall length of the essay.

How to Write a Critical Analysis Outline

Writing an outline is the best way to structure your paper. Keep in mind that the outline will vary depending on the subject being examined. For example, if you are looking for advice on how to write a critical analysis paper on a book, consider the following:

Introduction (One paragraph)

  • Write down the name of the book, the name of the author(s), and the area of work or genre being addressed.
  • Note the context in which the book was written.
  • Write down the author’s intent or argument.
  • Write your thesis or argument. It should be based on a summary of your own assessment of the book under analysis.

Body (three paragraphs)

  • This should comprise around 80% of the entire paper
  • List the first main argument in support of your thesis. As a rule, the first argument should be the strongest.
  • List the second main argument. If you are focusing on three arguments in support of your thesis, the second paragraph should contain your weakest one.
  • List the third main argument or, alternatively, address one counter-argument and then proceed to point out its flaws.

Conclusion (one paragraph)

  • Restate the thesis using different words
  • Discuss how the author or artist could have improved their work

If you how to write a critical analysis of a book, it can serve as a foundation other forms as well.

Bonus Tip #1: How to Write a Critical Analysis of a Play

As you go about analyzing a play, you would want to place a lot of emphasis on the narration, plot, and theme. The acting will also factor into your assessment.

Bonus Tip #2: How to Write a Critical Analysis of a Movie

Aside from the story and acting, consider other elements such as the camera angles, the lighting, even the way in which the music enhances or detracts from important scenes.