What Is Critical Writing and How To Master It?
One specific form of writing is critical writing. Critical writing is used in academia to a large degree—so you can’t avoid it if you want to be successful in college—but higher education isn’t the only field where you may employ the strategies for writing a critical text.
To be put into the category of critical writing, a piece of work needs to possess certain characteristics and be created for a specific purpose. Here, you’ll find out what critical writing is and get a glimpse at some examples of the form. You will also see what skills you need to practice to be a solid creator of critical pieces yourself.
What Is Critical Writing?
Critical writing can be defined by its purpose, which is to comment on another piece of work by using various writing strategies. You can comment on a written or any other work, like an art or entertainment piece. That’s not where that purpose ends, though.
When you’re writing a critical text, you also want to arrive at an original conclusion on the topic or work you’re critiquing. For that opinion to be valid, you need to explain how you formed it and back up your statements with references. That said, research will play a huge part in your writing process.
Another characteristic of critical writing is to make complicated topics easy to understand for an average reader. When they read your essay, they should understand the topic without having to look it up further.
Since a critical text is your work, your aim is also to convince the reader to side with your views. Your views are subjective, but you have to be careful about how you use that subjectivity. It’s why backing your opinions with real-life examples and existing research is vital.
Critical vs. Descriptive Writing
You have probably done assignments on descriptive writing since your first days at a school desk. Think essay topics like First Days of Fall in My Neighborhood or I Love My Best Friend Because, My Favorite Month of the Year, and so on. You had to use many adjectives and bring a person, a place, or an emotion to life in your essay. This is typical of descriptive writing.
Critical writing requires you to use a much more analytical approach to the topic of your assignment and as little description as possible.
Here’s a table to help you differentiate between the two forms of writing, which are both widely used in education:
When you are writing a critical analysis piece, you are allowed some description. In fact, you should be as original and daring with your language as possible. That said, you must be careful not to be too wordy. Never include unnecessary points in your essay only because you need to reach the required word count. Recognizing the difference between fluff and creativity is a type of writing skill you’ll need to perfect if you want to write a successful critical analysis.
Where Is Critical Writing Used?
Writing a critical analysis is a fundamental practice in:
- Academic writing. If you don’t end up writing critical texts for a living, you will likely do most of your critical writing in college. One of the most important values of higher education is to teach students to think for themselves. For these reasons, critical reading, thinking, and writing are an integral part of most college assignments
- Journalism. Many forms of expression in journalism—like reports, articles, or commentary—are written with an analytical approach, which is a key aspect of critical writing. Critical writing in journalism is also termed interpretative journalism because the authors interpret events, people, and phenomena. They study them through extensive research and provide original conclusions and predictions
- Media criticism. Anyone can comment on forms of art and entertainment today. Think film enthusiasts who write movie reviews on their blogs. That’s a form of critical writing. You also have professionals in various fields, like art, film, or music. They write critical pieces on the topics within their expertise, and their opinions are valued highly. When reading a review from anyone, whether it be an amateur or expert, you should still think critically and not take their word as gospel
Core Critical Writing Skills To Sharpen Constantly
Credit: MJ S
The skills you need to develop to be proficient in critical writing are many and more. The good news is that a large portion of them fall under the broad category of soft skills that you need to possess.
Without further ado, here are the essential skills you have to use when writing a critical analysis:
- Critical thinking
- Critical reading
- Organizing your writing
- Language proficiency skills
- Time management
- Citing sources
Question Everything You Read
Your first job as a critical writer is to examine the topic of your assignment with a critical mindset. Not only should you evaluate what you’re writing about but also question your resources. In other situations, the work you’re evaluating will be the only thing you need to review in your critical writing.
Whatever it is, you must be careful not to take anything you read at face value. Developing critical thinking skills is crucial for any aspect of life, not just while you’re in college and need to write an assignment.
Here’s how critical and noncritical thinking differ:
Analyze Texts All the Time
Sharpening your critical thinking skills and improving your critical reading skills go hand in hand. If your goal is to improve how you write a critical analysis, you should make reading the material that falls under that genre a routine.
Find the material that is within your area of study and read as much as possible. In the process of writing itself, you will have to do a lot of research and refer to the work you’re critiquing constantly. To get better, you shouldn’t take up critical reading only when your school assignments require you to.
While you’re working on your critical reading skills, you should:
- Skim and scan your material
- Annotate what you’re reading
- Determine if the source is relevant by checking who wrote it, when, and why
- Evaluate the statements within the text by comparing it with other works
Don’t Write Before You Outline
Outlining your essay is important for any serious writing, but when it comes to critical analysis, it’s especially necessary to have a plan before you start crafting your sentences. If you want to write a solid critical piece, you should organize your ideas and determine where in the text you’ll put all your opinions and commentary.
Your outline should include the following information:
- Title of your essay
- The topic of each body paragraph
- Sources you plan to cite and where in the text you’ll cite them
- The main point you wish to make
- The predictions on how the situation you’re writing about may develop in the upcoming period
- Suggestions for further research
Know How To Improve
Besides reading other people’s critical work, you should also make it a habit to reread your own. Self-improvement cannot be achieved without self-reflection, which is why you need to open yourself up to acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. While this may sound like a self-help quote, in writing, nothing aids progress as much as learning from your mistakes.
Another trick is to find people who can give you feedback on your work. You must learn to appreciate constructive criticism if you want to improve. If you’re doing critical writing for college, your mentors will assess your work. Don’t neglect to go over every comment they give you. Besides your professors, see if you can find other people who will go over your writing.
Pay Attention to How You Use Language
You cannot create above-average written content if you don’t have control over your use of language. This refers to everything connected to language—from your vocabulary range to your sentence constructions. You should also employ different writing strategies to make your work affect your readers the way you want it to.
All the skills we mentioned will improve with practice. To improve in the long run, incorporate the conscious practice of each mentioned skill. For example, you can devote a practice to analyzing texts with a critical mindset one day. The other day, you can read the material with the mind to acquire new vocabulary.
Organize Your Time
Organization and time management skills are key to any effective writing, and critical analysis is no exception. Usually, if you’re writing a critical text, it will be a longer piece, which means you can’t put it off until the clock is ticking dangerously close to the deadline.
Being diligent with your assignments and with your practice to hone your critical writing abilities is a skill you can improve on if it’s not already your forte.
Bullet journaling is a fun way to organize your time and tasks. You enter your weekly or monthly goals and responsibilities into a notebook and track your progress. This practice will help you stay motivated to stick to your set goals.
Learn How To Cite Your Sources
You can’t write a critical paper if you don’t reference your sources in it, especially if you’re writing for college. When you’re not sure how to quote passages, include footnotes in your text, or add the list of references at the end of it correctly, you can lose much time on that technical aspect.
As with any other skill, doing it as often as possible will result in getting more efficient with citing your sources. You can start by getting familiar with the rules and norms of a specific citation style you need to use. It’s better than referring to it constantly while writing your assignment. Purdue Online Writing Lab is a popular student resource for learning citation norms.
Critical Writing Examples
If you’re a beginner at critical writing, you should first get familiar with the form by checking out how others have done it.
Here are some free resources where you can find examples of critical writing:
Strategies To Employ in Your Critical Writing
Credit: Jingda Chen
Besides the skills mentioned—that you should work on to write a better critical analysis—some strategies go into every good critical piece. You should get familiar with these strategies, employ them in your work, and learn to adapt them to your style.
Some of the most prominent strategies used in critical writing are:
- Thorough research
- Persuasive language
- Confident presentation of arguments
- Comparison of sources
Do Your Research Well
Doing research is the essence of and the first step in working on a critical writing assignment. The nature of your piece is such that you can’t write it without referring to both the work you’re critiquing and the additional sources you used.
Be careful not to do research only because you need a list of references in your paper. The more thorough you are with your research, the stronger your argument will sound—which is the purpose.
Learn To Use Persuasive Techniques in Writing
Skillful critical writers use persuasion covertly in their work to argue their point and influence the reader’s opinion on the subject they’re commenting on.
Even when the point isn’t to make your audience believe your argument, you will want to convince them to read your piece to the end. Also, when readers digest a solid critical piece, they may not necessarily agree with the final evaluation, but they should realize the validity of it, i.e., how you came to the conclusion you made and why you’re arguing your point.
Present Your Arguments With Confidence
What will influence your readers to buy what you’re saying is the tone of your writing. You can learn to write confidently by employing other strategies listed, like doing in-depth research on your topic.
How you use language, what phrases you put into your writing, and how you structure your sentences will also determine whether your paper sounds confident or not. This means that the skills and strategies of critical writing overlap, and working on one also means working on another.
Contrast and Compare
When you show your research in your writing, you have to think about how it affects your audience. For example, if you only state the facts you learned or quote your sources, you will not convince your reader you have indeed engaged with the subject material. What will make them believe your argument is seeing how you compare and contrast the different arguments in your paper.
How Would You Define Critical Writing and Its Importance?
You can benefit from improving your critical writing abilities to a great extent. It makes you a better conversationalist, a skilled judge of the world, and a more confident individual. It also makes you unafraid to express your voice in any sphere or situation in your life.
Considering the benefits of knowing how to think and write critically—and the importance of reading and writing skills in general—you’d think your high school education would put more focus on developing those skills. Usually, students are only introduced to the norms of critical reading and writing when they go to college, and they have a hard time closing the gap between their abilities and their workload.
It’s time American education was reformed to include the effective teaching of these fundamental skills in the mainstream curriculum.
If you have ideas on how you would bring the much-needed innovations in schools or you want to offer your definition of critical writing and tips on how to master it, write to us. We’ll be thrilled to hear your opinion and make room for your words on our blog!