A critical essay will typically be used to assess the merits and highlight points of interest in a piece of writing. This will not necessarily be a disparaging evaluation, though we might normally think that being ‘critical’ implies this.
What you are being asked to do is consider aspects of the work in detail and use analysis of the language and structure to support your points; analysis can, in fact, also suggest additional lines of thought which, if relevant to the topic, might also be pursued.
In writing a critical essay, you need to adopt an objective style whilst making it clear which particular point of view the reading has suggested to you. In other words, give your opinion, but balance it by also showing an awareness of the opinions of others by citing critical works. All points should be supported by quotation and analysis using the referencing style which you have been asked to adopt e.g. Harvard, MLA etc.
You should collect your evidence before you begin to write, ensuring that you have made a comprehensive assessment of the works you are considering. It is useful to make notes of key quotes you will be using and keep a list of full publication details for your referencing; this is important in all essays but especially in a critical essay as you will probably be using a wider set of texts, both primary and critical.
Begin the essay by briefly stating your response to the question/topic in the introduction. Then move on to a succinct outline of the works as you see them but do not simply re-tell the narrative. As the essay progresses, the points made should build an argument which critically assesses the works, fully supporting each point with textual evidence balanced by critical opinion. The conclusion will be a summation of your responses and a final statement regarding the overall response you have inferred from your study. The conclusion of a critical essay might also include indications of further study which might be carried out.
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