Creating a Thesis and an Outline for a Critical Analysis Essay

Learning Objectives:

  • Write a thesis statement for a multi-page critical analysis essay that presents an opinion about a text's effectiveness.
  • Outline a multi-page critical analysis essay that examines how successful a text is at conveying its message and purpose using evidence from the readings as support.

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:

  1. Introductory Paragraph
    1. Hook
    2. Background
    3. Thesis
  2. Body Paragraphs
    1. Main Point I
      1. Evidence
      2. Analysis
      3. Link
    2. Main Point II
      1. Evidence
      2. Analysis
      3. Link
    3. Main Point III
      1. Evidence
      2. Analysis
      3. Link
  3. Concluding Paragraph
    1. Synthesis
    2. Final Impression