A critical essay is an analytic examination of a text or group of texts that presents an individual's interpretation of or argument about that text using the text itself as the basis for evidence and analysis. A critical essay is very similar to an analysis essay because it presents a claim about a topic in a thorough and academic way; however, while critical essays can be considered analysis essays, not all analysis essays are critical essays. This is because an analysis essay can be about a number of topics, and a critical essay always takes a text as its subject. Critical essays are common assignments in college courses because so many college courses require learners to read and engage with the work of scholars. Critical essays are especially common in courses that are based in the interpretation of texts, such as literature, philosophy, and theology.
The text the critical essay is about should be clearly identified very early in the report—typically in the first paragraph. Shortly following, it should present a specific thesis about that text. A thesis is a statement or group of statements that presents an argument or a claim. A good critical essay thesis will also give a brief indication of how that writer will defend that thesis. For example, a critical essay on Henry James' novel The Turn of the Screw might claim that Henry James intends for the reader to interpret the novel as a ghost story. To advance that claim, the author might argue that though the governess may seem to be an unreliable narrator, the examination of the observances of other characters in the text supports the governess' claims of paranormal activity. The thesis to this paper would therefore be as follows: "Though the governess in James' Turn of the Screw is notoriously known as an unreliable character, the inclusion of the strange experiences of other characters in the novel as reported through their dialogue indicates that James intended the novel to be interpreted as a ghost story." Here, the author makes a claim, and then explains how she will support that claim using textual evidence.
One of the primary difficulties of writing critical essays is avoiding too much summary. The point of the critical essay is to shed new light on a particular aspect of that text. Therefore, the writer should assume that his reader is familiar with the text in question and should present only a brief sketch of the plot or main points of the text.
Finally, because a critical essay is text-based, it must include a multitude of references to and quotes from the text. No claim the author makes should be without an example from the text to support it.
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