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What is a critical analysis essay and how to write it?


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Looking at a computer monitor when writing a critical analysis essay

Critical analysis essay is not a rare type of assignment in schools and universities. Therefore, you might already be familiar with a critical analysis definition. This is the analysis of a book, article, or movie. The aim of such a type of paper is to concentrate on one of the aspects of the text or a movie and to describe it in a broad context.

It is necessary to understand some points of view, events, facts, and evidence, or reevaluate already known things. In many instances, to analyze critically, we need to apply critical thinking skills, and the main secret of successful completion of the task you are given is reading between the lines, seeing through the text to identify the author’s ideas, hidden in the handy-dandy plot and story.

In the academic critical analysis, it is necessary to identify particular arguments, evidence, statements, opinions, and facts stated by authors of written works. Such analysis is applied in many custom works, such as a literature review, critique article, research paper, and so forth. By writing a critical analysis paper, we have a chance of diving deeper into information stated in this or that article to be analyzed.

How to write a critical analysis essay step by step

When students are asked to write a critical analysis essay of a piece of literature, it means that they should do their best to identify the main idea of an author as well as his/her point of view about the created characters and events. Such papers are more difficult than academic or scientific articles when it comes to analyzing. On the other hand, the examination of an article requires more narrow or specific knowledge and may result in the need to conduct some more research to come to a complete understanding of a problem.

Regardless, to succeed in writing a critical analysis, it is necessary to:

  • Understand all angles and perspectives of a text.
    Critical thinking is the exact tool called to examine a text, audio track, or movie to analyze any of those pieces. It implies taking extensive notes and annotating to be able to use this info later in the paper.
  • Once you understand the work, you need to research unknown aspects of the problem.
    Literary works require deeper analysis to define an original purpose of an author, his/her thesis in the plot, and even hidden motives. You are welcome to analyze the entire story critically, or concentrate on a specific part of the story and carry out a detailed review to find something that others cannot even notice.
  • Sometimes, to make writing more versatile, it is important to identify an author’s appeal, i.e., to logic or feelings.
    Identifying these things often helps to create a full picture of the analyzed material. This will let you see if the author used certain language to manipulate the emotions of the readers or make them more inclined to believe a certain viewpoint is more credible or logical than the other one.

After you’ve done the reading and the research, there is no need to start writing right away, as you need to plan this process first. For this, it is important to create a detailed outline, and we will show you how to do it.

Tips from experts

Meet our advisors

Read the essay question carefully!

Look for these words:

  • Describe/summarize means give the facts
  • Explain means analyze the topic
  • Argue means to reject/accept a viewpoint
  • Discuss refers to presenting a point of view
  • Critique means give both positive/negative sides
  • Compare and contrast discuss similarities/differences

Structure an essay

Beginners use the five-paragraph structure with references. Advanced writers use a variation of this method.


Write the first ugly draft – using first/third person depending on the requirements. Know how to paraphrase and summarize. Don’t plagiarize – everyone checks if the essay is unique.

Editing & Formatting

I use the chainsaw and surgical methods. Chainsaw cuts material that isn’t relevant. Surgical involves fine-tuning spelling and grammar.

What is the formatting style? APA, MLA, or CMS? What is the word/page count? Follow the rubric.

Penny J. Larsen

College professor with 30 years of teaching experience

Critical analysis outline

Professionals recommend writing down all key aspects and ideas of anything you are going to analyze. It means that you need to make an outline that will be based on the notes you have made. It is better to make your outline very detailed, as it will tremendously facilitate the actual writing process.

Additionally, writing an outline is important as it gives you a better understanding of a topic and issue under consideration. Here is a general example of a good outline for your consideration:

  • Introduction

Hook phrase

Supporting sentence

Thesis statement.

  • Body of the essay

3-6 paragraphs with arguments and examples.
Each paragraph covering 1 idea only.

  • Conclusion

Synthesized main points of your essay

Restated thesis

Conclusive sentence that calls for further reflection.


Introduction is perhaps the most important part of your essay. So, how to start a critical analysis paper? Hook your reader! A hook phrase is an integral part of the introduction. Therefore, think about some interesting or intriguing that is related to the topic and go for it!

Additionally, writing critical analysis papers requires providing potential readers with some background information. As a writer, you must be sure that readers understand what you seek to convey, as well as what the topic of the paper is. For example, if you write about a very specific, but scientifically narrow topic, it is necessary to clue readers in on that topic to make sure that they understand your thoughts and ideas.

Thesis statement

Needless to say that every academic paper needs a thesis statement, and so does a critical evaluation essay. Here, you need to present the main idea that you want to discuss and briefly cover the major supporting points. A thesis statement is usually just one sentence – rarely two that are placed in the very end of the intro. Therefore, be brief and leave the details for the body of the paper.

Body paragraphs

Body of the essay is the biggest part of the whole paper, which also has its specific structure. Here is how you can outline the paragraphs:

  • Introductory sentence, which is an introduction to the main problem.
  • Elaborative sentences with supporting/factual info.
  • Conclusive sentence with a transition to the next paragraph.

As long as you follow this structure in the body of your paper, you will be able to maintain a clear flow of thoughts and your essay will definitely look more professional than if you would just “wing it.”


Conclusion is as important as introduction. In this section, you ‘wrap up’ the whole paper. Therefore, you need to stick to the ‘golden rules’ of writing a good conclusion:

  • Never use any new information here.
  • Restate the thesis in such a way that it would look somehow new for the reader but preserving the essence of the main idea.
  • Never include any quotes. Instead, it would be great to give the readers some food for thought.

Also, it is important to find out what critical analysis format you need to stick to. You may ask your teacher or visit university or school website to get some guidelines.

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