A critical analysis (sometimes called a critique, critical summary, or book review) is a systematic analysis of an idea, text, or piece of literature that discusses its validity and evaluates its worth. A critical analysis usually includes a summary–a concise restatement of what a text says–and an evaluation–how well it says it. A critical analysis in literature, for example, might examine the style, tone, or rhetorical appeals of a text, while an analysis of a scientific paper might examine the methodology, accuracy, and relevance of the research.
A good critique will consider the following questions
- Who is the author, and what are his/her qualifications?
- What is the nature of the work (type, purpose, intended audience)?
- What is its significance? How does it compare to other material on the same subject? By the same author?
- What is the author's thesis?
- What is the organizational plan or method? Is it well conceived? Does it achieve the author's objectives?
- What are the underlying assumptions? Are they stated or do they lurk behind a stance of neutrality and objectivity?
- How do assumptions and biases affect the validity of the piece?
- Are arguments/statements supported by evidence? Is the evidence relevant? Sufficient?
- Is the author's methodology sound?
- What evidence or ideas has the author failed to consider?
- Are the author's judgments and conclusions valid?
- What rhetorical strategies does the author use? Are they effective?
A word about the thesis statement
Remember that no matter what format you follow in writing your critical analysis, it should have a thesis statement that establishes your approach to or opinion about the piece. Your thesis statement will not be the same as the original author's thesis statement. For example, say that the original author's thesis statement is “the moon is made of green cheese.” Your own thesis might be “the author's assertion that the moon is made of green cheese is ill-founded and is not supported with adequate evidence.”
Organizing the Critical Analysis
There are many models for writing a critical analysis. Some disciplines recommend breaking an analysis into two sections: The first section provides a summary of the content of the work, while the second section analyzes and evaluates the work. Other disciplines, in contrast, favor a model in which the summary and analysis are smoothly integrated. See the reverse side for two serviceable (if unembellished) formats for a critical analysis. Also, remember that length can vary from a paragraph to several pages.
Sample Critical Analysis — Two-Part Structure
In “Nature Cannot be Fooled,” [title] originally published in 1998 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, [date and source] Washington University Professor Jonathan Katz[author name and descriptor] contends [active verb] that American Society denies reality, living instead as if its “wished-for fictions” were “true” [paraphrase (and partial quotation) of author's thesis]. Katz further [transition] argues[active verb] that this distorted view of reality manifests itself in many negative ways—from public health policy to education. [list of key ideas]
(Note that the evaluative terms are bold-faced for the purposes of illustration only.)
Unfortunately, Katz fails to support his argument. His commentary relies onfallacies, unsupported claims, and opinions rather than on logical statements, supported claims, and facts. Therefore, even though Katz expresses much passion, he fails to offer a persuasive argument. [Use your own thesis statement to provide an organizational plan for the paper.]
The body paragraphs should analyze particular components of the work. For instance, in an analysis of the Katz commentary, the body would offer specific illustrations of the flawed passages in Katz's commentary; these illustrations would support the analytical claims that you are making about the work. The focus, then, is objective analysis, not subjective response.
The conclusion may restate the author's thesis, but the main purpose of the conclusion should be to emphasize your assessment of the writer's work.
Sample Critical Analysis — Integrated Model
One technique for integrating a summary and an evaluation is simply to merge the two separate sections (like the examples above) into a single introductory paragraph. Another technique is to synthesize the summary and evaluative comments, as in the following sample introduction:
In 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” for an audience of literary scholars of his own day. Thus, the essay can pose some difficulties for modern readers, who may not be familiar with literary history or the specific critics to whom Tolkien refers. In addition, Tolkien's diction is formal and quite dense. Nevertheless, he offers a persuasive and masterful defense of Beowulf, one of England's most beloved works. [Our thesis] Tolkien argues that Beowulf scholars are wrong to mine the poem solely for historic evidence about the Anglo-Saxon period, rather than reading it as a great and inspiring work of literature. [Tolkien's thesis] Although he agrees that its historical value is high, he shows that Beowulf is so powerful as a poem that its literary qualities far outshine its historical value.
Teresa Sweeney & Fran Hooker Webster University Writing Center, 2005
12.Examine two (or more) movies based on the same comic book character. Analyze the change in the character over the series, or examine the way two different actors and directors interpreted the character, motivations and plot (examples: Spiderman, X-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League, Superman).
13. Look at a romantic comedy. Analyze how this genre draws the audience into the story. What makes a romantic comedy effective? (examples: When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Clueless, Picture Perfect, Like Crazy).
14. Choose your favorite horror movie to examine. What makes this such a good horror film? Analyze what elements this movie has that creates the experience of horror in the audience (examples: The Exorcist, Sleepy Hollow, The Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, Halloween).
15. What makes a good summer movie? Examine one of your favorite summer movies, a classic, or a hit from last summer. Analyze what makes a movie good for a summer release? What are the audience expectations. How well does this movie match what the audience has come to expect? (examples: Do the Right Thing, Caddyshack, Jaws, (500) Days of Summer).
16. Pick a "dumb" comedy. While these sorts of movies don't generally hold up as classic literature, they can make us laugh and be fun to watch with a group of friends. However, there is a fine line between funny dumb and stupid dumb. Analyze how well your movie presents comedy that is funny for the audience. What makes a movie like this work? (examples: Ted, Bad Santa, The Cable Guy, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America, The Hangover).
17. Choose a movie that one The Best Picture award. Analyze what makes a movie the best of that year and one of the best of all time. Does your movie have features that most best pictures do? What makes it unique? If it was produced this year, would it win again? (examples: Wings (1927/29-the first Best picture award), Gone With The Wind (1939), Ben Hur (1959), The Sound of Music (1965), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), The King's Speech (2001).
18. Choose a reality T.V. series: Analyze why people like these shows. Why are they so popular and what makes a reality T.V. show good or bad? Do these shows exploit the people who appear on them? Where should we draw the line? (examples: Toddlers and Tiaras, Biggest Loser, Survivor).
19. Choose a popular older T.V. sitcom. Research the current events happening at the time the show was produced. Analyze why the show was popular at that time. Did that shows humor last? Can audiences who watch it now still appreciate the humor? (examples: I Love Lucy, Cheers, M.A.S.H).
20. Examine a popular game show. Explain the history of the show. Analyze how the show works to make the game interesting not only for the contestants but also for the viewing audience. Was the key ingredient the set-up of the game show, the contestants, the host, the audience, viewer participation or some other factor? (examples: Let's Make Deal, Minute to Win it, Jeopardy).