Critical analysis in essay writing
Critical analysis is a key skill for writing essays and allows you to assess the various ideas and information that you read, and decide whether you want to use them to support your points.
Critical analysis is a skill we exercise every day when assessing the information around us and making reasoned decisions: for example, whether to believe claims made in TV adverts or by politicians. Nor does it always mean disagreeing with something; you also need to be able to explain why you agree with arguments.
Critical analysis involves:
- Carefully considering an idea and weighing up the evidence supporting it to see if it is convincing.
- Then being able to explain why you find the evidence convincing or unconvincing.
It helps if you ask yourself a series of questions about the material you are reading. Try using these questions to help you think critically:
- Who is the author and what is their viewpoint or bias?
- Who is the audience and how does that influence the way information is presented?
- What is the main message of the text?
- What evidence has been used to support this main message?
- Is the evidence convincing; are there any counter-arguments?
- Do I agree with the text and why do I agree or disagree?
Some ways to get more critical analysis into your essays include:
Avoid unnecessary description – only include general background details and history when they add to your argument, e.g. to show a crucial cause and effect. Practice distinguishing between description (telling what happened) and analysis (judging why something happened). It can help to highlight each in a different colour to see what the balance looks like.
Interpret your evidence – explain how and why your evidence supports your point. Interpretation is an important part of critical analysis, and you should not just rely on the evidence 'speaking for itself'.
Be specific - avoid making sweeping generalisations or points that are difficult to support with specific evidence. It is better to be more measured and tie your argument to precise examples or case studies.
Use counter-arguments to your advantage – if you find viewpoints that go against your own argument, don't ignore them. It strengthens an argument to include an opposing viewpoint and explain why it is not as convincing as your own line of reasoning.
(Adapted from The University of Reading)