Creating a Thesis and an Outline for a Critical Analysis Essay
Many college courses, including psychology, literature, philosophy, microbiology, and history, require large amounts of reading. Your instructor may assess your understanding and analysisTo analyze is to make a thoughtful and detailed study of something. An analysis is the end result of analyzing. of a textWords that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech. through an exam; however, you may also be required to write an essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. that measures your understanding and opinionPoint of view that shows a personal belief or bias and cannot be proven to be completely true. of a chapter or articleA non-fiction, often informative writing that forms a part of a publication, such as a magazine or newspaper.. Sometimes these are assignments that ask you to assess the effectiveness of an authorA person who wrote a text.'s work, or how well he or she has made a case.
Keep in mind that the idea of a work's "effectiveness" is subjective because it is based upon your opinion of the author's success. In other words, it is possible that you and a classmate or colleague might disagree about the effectiveness of a specific textWords that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech.. This is not uncommon; sometimes there is no "right" answer. For this reason, it is important that you thoroughly understand the text and then provide sound reasoning for your opinions.
In this lesson, you will learn how to develop a thesis statementA brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader? for a critical analysis essay and how to create a corresponding outlineA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. using evidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim. to support your thesisAn overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis for a work..
Develop a Thesis Statement
Since the purpose of a critical analysis essay is to assess the effectiveness of a text at its most basic level, your thesis statement should refer to the text that you are analyzing and express whether you think that text is effective or not.
Remember, you are looking at the extent to which a text successfully produces the outcome or result it was meant to produce. Therefore, the first step in developing your thesis statement is to identify what the author wanted to accomplish. The second step is to assess the author's success in doing so.
Here are two examples of critical analysis thesis statements covering the same text. This thesis statement affirms the effectiveness of the author's work:
In Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty successfully argues that without government intervention, the gap between the rich and the poor will continue to grow because of an economic system that favors earnings on investments over earnings on labor.
Conversely, this thesis statement is critical of the author's effectiveness:
Thomas Picketty's book, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, does an excellent job of demonstrating how wealth continues to grow through investments, but fails to provide evidence that this favorable growth keeps people from moving from the lower class to the upper class through determination and hard work.
Develop an Outline
The next step to writing a critical analysis essay is to develop an outline. In addition to outlining the body, or supporting paragraphsA selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation., you should provide a brief summaryA brief restatement of an author’s main idea and major supporting details. Summaries are factual and should be written in the third-person with an objective point of view. of the text you are evaluating in the backgroundInformation that describes the history or circumstances of a topic. portion of your introductionThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis.. This will give your readers the contextThe larger setting in which something happens; the "big picture." they need to assess your analysis, which is especially important if they have not read the text you are evaluating.
In the supporting paragraphs, you should use the MEAL conceptAn acronym that describes a method of organizing the paragraphs in an essay. Under this plan, each paragraph should have a Main point, Evidence, Analysis, and a Link to the next paragraph. to outline the main ideaThe most important or central thought of a reading selection. It also includes what the author wants the reader to understand about the topic he or she has chosen to write about., evidence, analysis, and linkTo connect ideas together within a paragraph or to create a transition from one paragraph to the next, as well as back to the thesis..
Main Idea: your topic sentenceA sentence that contains the controlling idea for an entire paragraph and is typically the first sentence of the paragraph., identifying one of the supporting claimsA statement that something is true, such as the thesis of an essay. A successful writer must present evidence to prove his/her claim. for the thesis.
Evidence: factsA piece of information that can be proven. Something that is true and indisputable., expertSomeone who is very knowledgeable about a topic. opinion, or anecdotal evidenceA brief, interesting story that supports a claim in a critical analysis or persuasion essay. proving that the claim described in the topic sentence is true.
Analysis: explaining how the evidence supports the topic sentence.
Link: a transitionTying two events, passages, or pieces of information together in a smooth way. In writing, transitions are sometimes called links. from the paragraph, as well as back to the thesis.
In the essay, you need to use pieces of the original text as your evidence. If you think the text is effective, identify portions of the text that demonstrate its effectiveness; likewise, if you think the text is ineffective, identify portions of the text that demonstrate its ineffectiveness. In your analysis, you will explain why each portion supports your claim that the evidence contributes to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the entire text.
Keep in mind that you may have more than one piece of evidence or analysis for each of your main points, so your supporting paragraphs may look like MEEAL or MEAAL, or other combinations of evidence and analysis.
Finally, you should outline your conclusionThe end portion of a writing that contains a summary or synthesis of the idea in the work. This includes a recap of key points and reminders of the author's purpose and thesis statement.. In this paragraph, you need to bring all the parts of the essay together in the synthesis and create a strong final impression for the reader.
Here is what an outline for a critical analysis essay might look like:
Whether it is for a school assignment or a work task, developing the skill of outlining an essay is important. The bigger the assignment, the more important an outline becomes. Writing an outline requires you to closely examine your assignment or task and understand what is being asked of you; it also helps you organize your thoughts, stay on task, and explain your reasoning to others.
Imagine that you are working for a large hospital system, and are reviewing two different proposals for upgrading the hospital's technology system. You will need to evaluate the strengths of each proposal and report back to the larger leadership council on which proposal makes its case more effectively and should be implemented. If you do this successfully, the hospital will have a superior technology system that meets its needs. Your efforts at ensuring the success of the hospital will also make it more likely that you will be asked to take on important tasks in the future, increasing your chances for promotion.
The text below is an example of the kind of writing you might be assigned in one of your courses. Read the text and then review the sample thesis and outline of a critical analysis of the text that follows.
From "The Case for Recess" by Linda Acri in Chicago Family Weekly
Under pressure to improve student grades, many schools have cut back on recess, or even dropped it altogether. This is shortsighted and potentially dangerous, since studies show that unstructured play promotes educational, social, emotional, and creative development.
It may seem logical that more time in the classroom leads to better grades, but research suggests that recess is also important for academic success. Switching between structured and unstructured activities refreshes the brain and enhances its ability to store new information. Too much time spent on one type of task reduces the amount of information a child can absorb, while occasional breaks from schoolwork improve concentration.
The positive effects of recess go beyond grades into expanding the social and personal skills of children. Recess gives children time to talk and connect with one another, which strengthens their communication skills and puts them at ease with school and their peers. Free time at school can help children develop persistence and self-control. Creative skills are boosted when kids plan and design their own games and activities. If we want schools to help children not just learn but also grow as people, we must provide them with time each day just to be kids.
In his 2012 study "Sedentary Children are Blue, Bored, and Belligerent," Doctor Mark Phillips of the Main Hospital demonstrates that children need exercise, fresh air, sunlight, daily interaction with peer groups, and time at school during which they aren't being told what to do. Otherwise, they become "tired, bored, depressed, angry, antisocial, and unfocused." Phillips goes on to say that "schools must take responsibility for what is happening to children," and even suggests that the elimination of recess "borders on criminal."
Recess is also important because many children don't have the opportunity or inclination to play outside when the school day ends. Some participate in sedentary after-school programs like tutoring or arts and crafts. Others go right home, but stay indoors watching electronic entertainment or doing homework rather than playing tag in the yard or throwing around a ball. Many parents don't let their children roam their neighborhood the way they themselves once did. Due to both real and imagined dangers, few adults are comfortable letting their children play outside, particularly in urban neighborhoods or after dark. When I talked with one mother, she told me, "It's just not safe to let them go outside. Look at all the child abductions on television!"
We must help our children to thrive in all the ways they should. School administrators, city councilmen, and parents, think back to your childhood. Remember when you could barely sit still at your desk, filled with gleeful anticipation of schoolyard games, friend time, freedom from the stuffy classroom air, and the opportunity to rest your mind and pencil-gripping hands? Let's give kids a break. Bring back recess!
After reviewing the above text, the next step is to write a thesis statement for a critical analysis of the text. Once you have determined your thesis, you should create your responses, ideas, and thoughts to create an outline evaluating the text.
Thesis: Linda Acri's "A Case for Recess" successfully makes a convincing and persuasive argument for why we must fight for our children's recess time.
Outline evaluating text:
Read the text below. After reading it, write an appropriate thesis statement for an essay evaluating the text, followed by an outline of this evaluation.
From "Employers Violate Civil Liberties Over Online Videos and Posts" by Lionel Burnett; Opinion Section, New York Weekly Post
If you aren't hooked up online then you might as well be nonexistent. Your online presence is basically who you are today. It's a fundamental right to be who and what you want to be online as much as it is in "real" life.
Social media has really changed how people relate to one another. We don't have to see people face-to face anymore. We can work long hours or live far apart and still keep up with the life events, celebrations, trials, and tribulations of friends and family. With a couple swipes of the finger on a tablet, I can find out who your friends are, where you go to school, who you work for, and what music you listen to. I can even find out what world city you should live in or what type of animal best describes your personality from the quizzes you post! Through our profiles—the photos, comments, and stories we post—we get to decide how the world sees us. It's a lot of fun! But sadly, opening our lives to the world can also cause us big, big trouble.
My friend Aaron was a teacher at a local school. He's also a guy who loves hunting. He stopped talking to people at work about his hobby after his boss took him aside and said that it was "inappropriate to discuss such matters in this environment, particularly given recent incidents. We don't want to scare the children or parents." Then last week, Aaron posted a few pictures of his latest hunting trip online, along with a video of him showing his eleven-year-old son how to properly load, fire, and unload a shotgun. All his friends thought that it was awesome that he spent time with his son while teaching him gun safety. But then the video went viral, and the principal and superintendent at Aaron's school heard about it. They called him in, and they fired him! They said he'd been warned, and that posting the video was irresponsible. Aaron was fired even though he never signed a contract or committed to any guidelines around using social media. It isn't right and it isn't fair.
Not long ago I had to sign a "social responsibility" statement for my job. The contract requires employees to review the policies and standards of the organization and exercise good judgment online. Human Resources has also issued a ludicrous one-strike rule. This new policy states that if we post something that reflects poorly on the industry, the company, or any employees, we must either a) deactivate our online accounts or b) change our profile names so no one will know where we work. If we refuse, we will be fired. This is a violation of civil liberties! No piece of paper I am forced to sign is going to change what I choose to do online.
No company has the right to tell an employee how to behave in his or her personal life. I fail to see why our Internet lives should be any different than real life. My boss goes out partying every night, but he didn't have to sign a contract saying he would watch what he says or does in a bar. If he tries to fire me for posting things online, I will see to it that he gets dismissed for being so irresponsible and partying all night. Of all of the employees, I guess I am the most upset about this. All of my coworkers signed the new contract without complaining. They aren't all that interested in talking to Human Resources with me either. I will serve as the lone advocate for this important cause without them. I will see to it that these companies stop violating our civil liberties by limiting our vital online presence!
Now, write a thesis statement that evaluates the text.
While entertaining, Lionel Burnett's "Employers Violate Civil Liberties Over Online Videos and Posts" fails to successfully argue that employer requests for decent online behavior from employees is a violation of civil liberties.
Next, create an outline that evaluates the text.
How does creating an outline help you develop an effective critical analysis essay?
Developing an outline helps me organize my ideas before I get started on writing my first draft. This saves me time and energy, keeping the first draft more focused than if I just start writing without any plan.
Why do you need to reference portions of the text to demonstrate its effectiveness or lack of effectiveness?
You need to reference portions of the text to demonstrate its effectiveness or lack of effectiveness because summaries, paraphrases, and quotes from the text illustrate the writer's actual arguments. The specific words and ideas of the writer are what your arguments and reasoning around the essay's effectiveness are based upon. Referencing the text provides evidence to support your own writing and also provides your own reader with the original text to go back and review.
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