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The Critical Essay—what do you Critique?

The critical essay spans a gamut of topics and subjects, but can be categorized into three basic types: (1) evaluative essay, (2) the descriptive essay, and (3) the interpretive essay. Though the categories may vary, the thought process involved in writing these essays is essentially similar: understand and know the subject thoroughly, form an opinion about it, evaluate your opinion as well as that presented by the writer, understand the basic elements of the text, and create a focus. These essay types can cover a wide range of subjects that test the writer’s ability to present an objective analysis.

The type of essay you write would depend on the assignment or your comfort with the category. If you prefer to discuss a text’s significance, meaning, and theme, you could opt for the interpretive critical paper. A discussion of specific aspects of the text such as its tone, language, or symbolism, is more suitable for the descriptive type. If you want to weigh a text’s quality, its presentation, its worthiness, readability, and other such evaluative aspects, you could opt for the evaluative type of critique. The style and content would depend not only on the type of critical essay you write, but also on the subject manner.

Literary Criticism: Subjects pertain to the literary text and its various elements. The text could be poetry, drama, novels, poets, authors, playwrights, or their commentators. You could be asked to critically analyze a text’s theme, characters, settings, ideas, plot, dramatization, language, tone, or ideology among others. This topic requires a thorough understanding of the text as also of the use of literary elements within the text. You may need to comment on their use and effectiveness, give examples to substantiate, and understand and comment on the writer’s ideas and ideology as asked for by the assignment. For example, you could be asked to evaluate a poet such as john Donne vis-à-vis his genre, technique, imagery, and the Metaphysical age he represents. You would need to understand metaphysical poetry, its characteristics, and Donne’s place within this genre.

Social Topics: These could relate to gender issues and pertinent policies, relevant legal cases, specific issues such as abortion, education, or equal employment opportunities. A common example in this context is the critical analysis of the “Roe vs. Wade” case. Such topics call for an understanding of the issue and its social, personal, economic, health, and legal factors. As the writer, you would need to analyze the case in point, its background, and its relevance.

Economic issues: These include policies, strategies, strengths and weaknesses of a particular policy, or cause and effect analysis of a policy. Awareness of the policy or issue is a must. You want to analyze the issue, its background, major concerns, policies, and their efficacy.

Writing the critical essay is a skill you master slowly. What you need to remember at all times is that the subject is important. Understand it, explain it, analyze it, and present the ideas in clear, logical manner and language. Along with this, the ability to shift wheat from chaff is useful and often makes all the difference between the effective critique and the ineffective one.