Writing a Multi-page Critical Analysis Essay

Learning Objective:

  • Write a multi-page critical analysis essay using at least one direct quote and one paraphrased citation.

In your college courses, you will be asked to write many different kinds of essaysA 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. . Some are more challenging than others. Analysis essaysA written evaluation of a topic, such as an article, piece of art, person’s life, etc. An analysis essay may include a summary of the subject, but is mostly used to evaluate and discuss: Is it good? Is it bad? Is it poorly written? Was the author misguided or very accurate?, in particular, require close and careful reading of textsWords that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech.. There is more than one kind of analysis essay. The most in-depth is called a critical analysis essayA written evaluation of a topic, such as an article, piece of art, person’s life, etc. A critical analysis essay analyzes and evaluates the content or ideas of a work as well as how the author presents his or her ideas or arguments..

In a critical analysis essay, you not only analyzeTo make a thoughtful and detailed study of something. the contentThe text in a writing that includes facts, thoughts, and ideas. The information that forms the body of the work. or ideasA thought, opinion, or impression. of an author'sA person who wrote a text. work, but also how the author presents them. You only summarizeTo give a short version of the main points of a text. the author's main pointsThe most important idea in a paragraph. Main points support the main idea of a reading. at the beginning of the essay; your analysis and evaluationTo make a judgment about the quality of something. For example, you can evaluate an essay by examining the accuracy of the information or the strength of the arguments. of the author's argumentA set of statements or reasons making a case for or against something. make up the majority of your writing. In this lesson, you will learn how to write a multi-page critical analysis essay using quotationsAn exact copy of the words from a speech or text. These words are placed inside quotation marks to show that they are a perfect repeat of the original. and paraphrasesThe use of different words to express the meaning of an original text or speech. to support your claims.

Step 1: Understand the assignment.

Understanding your specific assignment is the first step in writing a critical analysis essay. Remember that what makes a critical analysis essay unique is that you are evaluating the quality of someone else's work; you are offering your perspectiveThe point of view from which an author considers a subject or issue. on it. Since you should strengthen your argument by including quotations and ideas from other authors, you will need to include in-text citationsInformation about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page. There are different rules for how to use in-text citations depending on the context of the citation and the style of formatting you are using. and a works cited pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an MLA-formatted essay or research paper. in your essay.

Step 2: Gather ideas for your essay.

The next step is to gather ideas for use in your essay. Generally, there are four categories to focus on when doing a critical analysis: the work's message, the foundation (thesisAn overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis for a work., 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., and evidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim.), structure (organization and cohesiveness), and purposeThe reason the writer is writing about a topic. It is what the writer wants the reader to know, feel, or do after reading the work./impact. The following are some specific questions you might ask yourself about an author's work or a topicThe subject of a reading. to help you explore these categories further as you gather ideas:

The Work's Message:




Keeping these questions in mind will help you stay focused on evaluating the author's work, not just summarizing it or giving your opinionPoint of view that shows a personal belief or bias and cannot be proven to be completely true. on the topic.

Your answers to these questions may require you to do additional reading and research on the topic. You should consider this research to be preliminary; more in-depth research will be needed after you have formulated your thesis and have a better idea of the structure of your analysis.

Step 3: Develop the thesis and rough outline of the essay.

At this point, you will be ready to develop a working or tentative thesis statementAn early form of a thesis statement that can be developed into a more formal thesis statement by creating supporting details. and create a rough or informal outlineA simplified outline that presents an overview of the placement of information in a reading. of your essay. You will almost certainly adjust the 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? and outline as you work through your essay and think more deeply about your topic; they function as a starting point. In a critical analysis essay, your thesis statement should include the topic, subjectThe people, places, things, or ideas being discussed or described. , or item that you are analyzing and the point that you are making about it.

Your rough outline does not need to be comprehensive or carefully written; it is an informal plan of where you believe your argument will go. It should include the main points you intend to make and any pieces of evidence that you may already have for each point. You will flesh out these ideas later in the process.

Step 4: Research your topic.

The next step is to research your topic using the ideas you gathered and the thesis statement and rough outline you developed to guide you. For example, imagine you are asked to respond to George Packer's 2013 book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. In it, he argues that the foundation of the middle class in America began crumbling in the nineteen-seventies. In Step 2, when you gathered ideas, you might have asked yourself if other authors would argue that this occurred earlier, later, or whether it has truly occurred at all. Initial research suggests that Packer is politically liberal; your next step should be to seek out what reputable conservative writers or publications have published about this book or topic. What you read there may lead to additional questions and research.

As you conduct your research, be sure to focus on reputable sources. Peer-reviewedWritings that have been evaluated by experts in a subject before they are published. journals and well-established magazines, authors, and websites are generally reputable sources; many blogsA website that hosts a series of articles, photos, and other postings, sometimes by a single writer (blogger) or by a community of contributors., Wikipedia, research articles without citationsA reference within a text to an outside source of ideas, quotes, or information. Citations can be placed within sentences or in a separate works cited or reference section, as specified by the style guide in use., and materials that are over fifteen years old or otherwise dated are not. Anything that someone self-publishes is suspect. Do not automatically trust any one source; you should always cross-reference your factsA piece of information that can be proven. Something that is true and indisputable. to verify their validity.

Finally, as you research, be sure to take clear notes on the sources of the information that you incorporate into your essay and note any particularly compelling ideas or writing that you encounter. You may want to incorporate some of these ideas as quotations or paraphrases. Carefully noting where they come from will be important when you write your essay and create your works cited page.

Step 5: Write your body paragraphsThe part of an essay that comes after the introduction and before the conclusion. Body paragraphs lay out the main ideas of an argument and provide the support for the thesis. All body paragraphs should include these elements: a topic sentence, major and minor details, and a concluding statement. Each body paragraph should stand on its own but also fit into the context of the entire essay, as well as support the thesis and work with the other supporting paragraphs. .

After you have conducted your research, you are ready to begin writing the body paragraphs, which are the main part of your essay. At this stage, do not concern yourself with the exact words you want to use; instead, spend your time getting your major ideas and their support down on paper. Be sure to limit the scopeThe extent or aims of a project. of your writing to the most significant points; nobody wants to read everything you know and have discovered about a topic. Restricting yourself to your strongest arguments will make your writing more effective.

Step 6: Formalize the outline.

Once your rough draftThe first version of a writing that will undergo rewriting, additions, and editing before it becomes the final draft. is complete, you should pause to review it to ensure that your direction is accurate and you have supported your ideas sufficiently. To do this, create a formal outlineAn outline that is traditional and structured, follows a set pattern, and uses a combination of Roman numerals, letters, and numbers to show a hierarchy of information based on the major and minor details or ideas. of your rough draft. Identify any gaps in your argument and areas where readers might question your claims. Be sure to fill in those gaps. This may require more research to find quotes and paraphrases to use to support claims. It also will likely require fine-tuning your thesis.

Step 7: Rewrite your essay.

Use this new information to fill in the gaps in your essay. This is also the time to focus on crafting the language you use. Select your words and ideas carefully and organize them logically to clearly and powerfully argue your position.

Step 8: CiteTo give credit to the source of ideas or information. your sources.

Any ideas or quotations that come from other sources must be properly cited in your essay. You do this by providing in-text citations, attributive phrasesA short introduction to source material that identifies the author and often the title of a work that will be quoted or discussed in an essay or research paper. , and eventually, a works cited page. In-text citations give the readers the necessary information to find the original source and typically include author's name, page number, and/or the year published within parentheses. Check to see whether your professor requires MLAA grammar and reference guide used mainly by students and scholars writing about the humanities (languages and literature). - or APAA set of guidelines for citing sources used in literary and academic writing. APA style is most commonly used in the social sciences.-style citations because the two styles differ.

An attributive phrase is where you indicate within your sentence where the quotation comes from. For example:

In her book Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin remarked, "the proper relationship of possessions to happiness is hotly debated."

The underlined portion of the sentence above is an attributive phrase; these transitionsTying two events, passages, or pieces of information together in a smooth way. In writing, transitions are sometimes called links. help to smoothly incorporate direct quotationsAn exact copy of the words from a speech or text. These words are placed inside quotation marks to show that they are a perfect repeat of the original. and indirect quotationsA summary or paraphrase of another’s words or ideas. An indirect quotation does not require quotation marks. and paraphrases into your writing.

The importance of properly citing your sources cannot be emphasized enough. If you do not properly cite your sources, it will appear that you have either deliberately or accidentally plagiarizedTo take someone else's ideas, words, or work and pass it off as your own; copying without giving credit. someone else's work. This is a very serious offense in both career and academia. In some cases, you risk expulsion from school or termination from a job for it.

Step 9: Write the introduction.

When the bodyThe main portion of a writing that contains the main ideas and supporting details of the writing. This is where the author's purpose and thesis statement are supported and/or developed. of your essay is close to complete, it is time to write your introductionThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis.. It may seem strange to wait until the end to do this, but it can be difficult to introduce your readers to an idea that has not been written. If you let a weak, preliminary introduction drive the writing of your essay, you will end up with a weak essay.

A strong introduction hooksIn writing, a device used to grab a readers' attention, often in the form of interesting, surprising, or provocative information. the reader's interest, provides your thesis statement, includes background information on your topic, and gives the reader an indication of what to expect as he or she reads. It also establishes a toneThe feeling or attitude that a writer expresses toward a topic. The words the writer chooses express this tone. Examples of tones can include: objective, biased, humorous, optimistic, and cynical, among many others. that the reader will expect to be maintained throughout your essay.

This is also the time to make sure that you have provided enough backgroundInformation that describes the history or circumstances of a topic. information about the work that you are critically analyzing for the reader to understand your argument. Remember, background information is just a 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., not a significant portion of your overall essay. Your reader is interested in reading your ideas, not those in the source materialInformation that is quoted or paraphrased from outside works, such as journal articles, online documents, and books. .

Step 10: Write the conclusion.

Now you are ready to write 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.. The goal of the conclusion is to summarizeTo give a short version of the main points of a text. and synthesizeTo combine ideas, as in the writing at the end of an essay that ties all the discussion and evidence together into a unified concept. the important details of the essay. Remember that a strong conclusion reflects the main idea of your essay but does not repeat it, nor does it introduce new ideas or facts that would be more logically included in the body of your essay. Your conclusion is the last thing a reader sees, so it stands to reason that this is what he or she will remember most clearly. Some powerful techniques include asking a question, proposing an action item, making a prediction, providing a solution, or including an intriguing or provocative quotation.

Step 11: Create a works cited or references page.

The in-text citations do not necessarily include all the information to find the original source, but they do when combined with the works cited or references pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an APA-formatted essay or research paper.. MLA format uses a works cited page while APA uses a references page. Both types of citation pages come at the end of the work and include information required to locate a source, including article title, journal/book title, year published, authors, publisher, and place of publishing. Because you will potentially use a wide variety of sources, there are many specific rules for how to do this. Be sure to consult an MLA or APA style guideA set of rules for punctuation, grammar, and other facets of writing, used to produce consistency and promote understanding. Different publications and types of writing often follow different style guides. Well-known style guides in the U.S. include The Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Style Manual, and the Associated Press Stylebook., and use the exact process described.

Step 12: ReviseThe process of making changes to a work by editing and proofreading it to improve, correct, and increase clarity. your essay.

By now, you are probably so deeply engaged in your writing that you need a new perspective, which is why it can be helpful to enlist an outside reviewer to give you feedback. You should both review the essay with the following questions in mind: