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What Is a Critical Essay?

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  • Written By: Helen Akers
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2016
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A critical essay usually examines a particular characteristic of a creative piece of work, such as film, novel, or play. The essay's author does not supply his opinion of the work, but rather an analysis that can be substantiated by outside sources. Writers of critical essays will typically present their main idea at the beginning, followed by a description of the arguments and evidence that either support or oppose the central idea. The essay typically ends with a conclusion.

English literature and composition classes will usually require students to practice writing a critical essay. One of the main problems with this type of essay is that students can sometimes choose topics or titles that are not narrow enough. It is important to focus on a very specific characteristic of a creative work or a particular angle in a critical essay. For example, an individual might want to focus on a film's use of cinematography to visually communicate its meaning rather than the entire script or plot.

The tone and style that is typically used in a critical essay is objective rather than subjective. This means that the author attempts to isolate his own opinion and perspective from the analysis. Instead, he uses examples of other creative works that might have employed the same techniques or expert editorial reviews. The author of a critical essay might also substantiate his analysis with historical facts and case reviews.

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Arguments and central ideas of critical essays usually get readers to look at the creative work that is being analyzed in a different way. The essay seeks to educate readers about ideas and aspects of a work they may not have considered or noticed before. A critical essay may in fact propose a new idea about what a book or play is communicating in terms of its central theme.

Prior to writing the essay, the author often conducts an analysis of the creative work. He attempts to dissect the creator's intended meaning and values. Sometimes it is helpful to look at other pieces of creative work with a similar technique or style to draw parallels. The author may also consult the works of the creator's mentors or influences to substantiate any connections between an individual piece of creative work and a larger artistic movement.

A conclusion will often summarize the main points presented throughout the essay. It will usually restate the main idea or argument and present a summary of the supporting evidence. The conclusion in a critical essay does not offer any recommendation or opinion.

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