Has a tutor ever put a comment on an essay of yours suggesting that your writing ‘isn’t critical enough’? Critical essay writing is quite a complex task. It involves a deeper level of discussion, analysis and evaluation. Read on to know what a critical essay is and how to write it in a short time span.
What is Critical Thinking & How to Use It in Your Essay?
Critical thinking is going against the prevailing wisdom. It entertains the thought that our present way of thinking is probably neither the best nor the most appropriate way.
To write critical thinking essays, you need to do the following:
Describe: You need to define what it is you are talking about in the essay. Say what is involved, where does it take place and under what circumstances.
Analyse: Compare and contrast different aspects of your topic. You need to examine and explain how different parts fit into a whole.
Reason: Demonstrate logical thinking skills to identify the causes and effects relevant to your topic. You need to present sufficient evidence to support your arguments and refute the counter-arguments.
Reflect: You need to recognise the underlying principles relevant to your topic. Consider other viewpoints to include new information in the essay.
Evaluate: Judge the consequences or value of your arguments. This step is crucial to justify your point of view in the essay.
Criticise: Acknowledge the strengths and merits of your arguments. Identify and examine the flaws and weaknesses in your arguments.
For critical thinking essays, you need to understand what the topic asks you to do. For example, say your topic is: ‘A critical analysis of Dr X’s article on Genocide’.
In that case, you don’t have to weigh in on the topic. You have to evaluate the contribution of Dr X in the field of genocide. Check out the examples given below to understand the concept even better.
Incorrect: ‘Genocide must be stopped immediately since it is a terrible phenomenon.’ (As discussed, you have to talk about the author’s contribution.)
Correct:‘Dr X has brought forth a radical but well-supported argument about the long-term effects of Genocide.’
Correct: ‘Dr X fails to highlight several instances of Genocide which did not support his arguments.’
Hopefully, you must have understood the basic requirements of a critical thinking essay by now. Let us talk about the process to write the essay easily. The very step towards writing a critical essay is to generate critical thinking ideas. Here’s how you should do it.
1. Generate Critical Thinking Ideas
Have a look at this figure to generate critical thinking smoothly.
As shown in the example, a sequence of critical thinking questions can be used to generate different relevant ideas. You can explore these ideas and turn them into arguments to be used in the essay. The questions given below can help you think about every aspect of the topic.
What? Try to answer the questions starting with ‘what’ related to your topic. The answer can help you formulate the introduction, identify the core issues and define the terms.
Who? When? Where? These questions can help you provide thorough background information for the essay. You can also get your hands on contextual, scene-setting material for the introductory section.
How? This question lets you consider different ways in which things work or operate. This is where you can showcase your analytic skills in the critical essay.
Why? It helps you find logical reasons, causes and explanations. The possible answers to this question may change with time. The more you read or research, the better your explanations will be.
What if? This lets you move into a more evaluative phase of thinking. You can think about the possible consequences of a particular action and use it in your writing. This can also help you highlight the counter-arguments related to your topic.
So what? It helps you justify your own position in the essay and its implications. You can think through and filter out the less important factors from the essay. This can help you identify the most valuable information to be used in the essay.
What next? This question lets you throw some light on the suggestions that would be relevant to your topic. It leads to specific action required in the essay.
Overall, these questions present a coherent piece of writing. You can use these questions to tell a story or create a narrative without disrupting the logic in the essay.
Take a look at this simple example given below:
A Critical Analysis of Cups
Cups (A kind of vessel)
By containing liquid
For temporary storage and prevent it from spilling
Table 1: How to write critical essays?
‘A cup is usually used in every home and universally in one form or another. It has evolved over the years from structures such as gourds or seeds to hand-made ceramic vessels. However, these equipment are still used among tribal people. Whatever the shape or material of the cup is, the purpose remains the same. Our reliance on these vessels remains intact even after so many years.’
How is it made?
Why is it made in a particular way?
What if it was made in other ways?
The usual process of manufacturing a cup
To store liquid easily
Explore different ideas
Problem not solved
Provide other possible solutions
Table 2: Components of a critical analysis essay
‘Apparently, a cup has one simple function and that is to store liquid. However, the material should not be overly porous or have holes, lest it may lead to spillage. It must be rigid enough not to subside. The size should be easily manageable and smoothly held. Finally, it should be durable.
Plastic cups have overcome the last criterion. The process to manufacture plastic cups is quite complex. It includes pouring hot liquid into a mould and letting it set. This process can cause harmful environmental effects and plastic cups are considered desirable by most of the people.
The metal can be put to use for the manufacture of cups. But, it has its own set of problems such as unable to radiate heat and affecting the taste of the contents.’
You can end the essay by stating that the issue of durability hasn’t been resolved yet. While answering the ‘So what?’ question, you can evaluate the consequences of the issue. You must provide feasible solutions to the issue by answering the ‘What next?’ question.
2. Prepare a Thesis Statement
Consider the thesis statement to be like a bridge. Remember how the cross beams of a bridge needs to hold up by strong columns for the bridge to function properly? To draft a strong thesis statement too, you need to take care of two crucial elements.
Supporting details to sustain it
If you compare it with the bridge analogy, your claims represent the cross-beams and the supporting details represent the columns.
The claim is a one-sentence statement that:
Is based on a generalisation
Is not a fact
Must be written in the introduction of the essay
Takes a stance
While writing the claim, you need to ask yourself the following questions.
What am I trying to say?
What is it I am trying to get at?
What point am I trying to make here?
Here is an example for you to understand the difference between a weak and strong thesis statement.
Say your topic is: ‘Write a critical analysis essay on the Civil Rights Movement.’
Weak thesis statement: Civil Rights Movement occurred in the 1960s.
Strong thesis statement: Civil Rights Movement had a tremendous impact on the American Society.
The first thesis statement is weak because it just states the fact. The second thesis statement is comparatively stronger because it presents a position.
The supporting details reinforce your claim and add value to your thesis statement. You can organise the supporting details in 3 different ways:
‘The Civil Rights Movement had a severe impact on the American Society, as is evident in the changes that took place within the moral, legal and cultural systems.’
[Supporting details organised into categories]
‘The effect of the Civil Rights Movement on the American Society can be traced through three stages of the Movement- 1950s (the early years), 1960-1970s (the central fight) and 1980 and after (the post-movement years).’
[Supporting details organised into periods]
‘Some of the major accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement on the American Society include the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and President Johnson’s Affirmative Action Executive Order of 1965.’
[Supporting details organised into effects]
3. Write the Introduction
A proper introduction provides a roadmap for further analysis or discussion of your essay. The basic introduction of a critical thinking essay should have the following:
Definition: What will you be talking about in the essay? Define or describe the topic or the concept of your essay.
Relevance: How will your essay topic affect the society? Highlight the importance of your topic.
Thesis statement: We have already discussed the thesis statement in the previous section. Use these tips to write a perfect thesis statement for the introduction.
Say your topic is: Civil Rights Movement
‘The motive of the Civil Rights Movement (the 1960s) was to gain equality for African Americans. It was a time period full of rebellion and restlessness within the American Society.’ [Definition]
‘Owing to the movement, African Americans, gained access to the opportunities and services that were previously denied to them.’ [Relevance]
‘The Civil Rights Movement had a severe impact on the American Society, as is evident in the changes that took place within the moral, legal and cultural systems.’ [Thesis Statement]
The introduction of your critical essays should not be more than 2 paragraphs. Keep it precise and to the point.
4. Craft the Main Body of the Essay
This is where you need to provide detailed information about the topic. You need to address each argument in a new paragraph. Provide enough evidence to support your arguments.
The supporting details are introduced in the first sentence of a new paragraph. It is also known as the topic sentence. Check out the example given here:
Topic sentence 1: ‘The legal system of the United States went through drastic changes due to the Civil Rights Movement.’
Topic sentence 2:‘Owing to the movement, the moral structure of American society also experienced a change.’
Topic sentence 3: ‘The face of the American culture changed because of the Civil Rights Movement.’
The body of your critical essay should consist of all the aspects of your topic. You must also explain the impact of the research on your thinking. It is always better to use at least 3 paragraphs in the main part of your critical essay.
5. Draft the Conclusion
The conclusion brings closure to your essay. It is your final chance to impress your readers. You need to reiterate and wrap-up the entire write-up in this section. Just like the introduction, this section has 3 crucial parts such as:
Relevance: State the significance of your topic
Review: Repeat the key points that you have discussed in the essay
Summary: Summarise your conclusions and provide a strong ending to your essay
Check out the example here:
‘Keeping all the evidence in mind, the fight for civil rights was definitely a turning point for the American Society.’ [Relevance]
‘This essay discussed the influence of the Civil Rights Movement on the moral, legal and cultural systems of the United States.’ [Review]
‘So the modifications initiated by the Movement modified the structure of the American Society.’ [Summary]
A conclusion generally comprises of one paragraph.
Remember, that the conclusion rounds off your essay. You must not introduce any new information in this section.
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