- Identify the author's thesis and purpose
- Analyze the structure of the passage by identifying all main ideas
- Consult a dictionary or encyclopedia to understand material that is unfamiliar to you
- Make an outline of the work or write a description of it
- Write a summary of the work
- Determine the purpose which could be
- To inform with factual material
- To persuade with appeal to reason or emotions
- To entertain (to affect people's emotions)
- If the purpose is to inform, has the material been presented clearly, accurately, with order and coherence?
- If the purpose is to persuade, look for evidence, logical reasoning, contrary evidence
- If the purpose was to entertain, determine how emotions are affected: does it make you laugh, cry, angry? Why did it affect you?
SAMPLE OUTLINE FOR CRITICAL ESSAY
After the passage under analysis has been carefully studied, the critique can be drafted using this sample outline.
- I. Background information to help your readers understand the nature of the work
- A. Information about the work
- 1. Title
- 2. Author
- 3. Publication information
- 4. Statement of topic and purpose
- B. Thesis statement indicating writer's main reaction to the work
- II. Summary or description of the work
- III. Interpretation and/or evaluation
- A. Discussion of the work's organization
- B. Discussion of the work's style
- C. Effectiveness
- D. Discussion of the topic's treatment
- E. Discussion of appeal to a particular audience
Avoid introducing your ideas by stating "I think" or "in my opinion." Keep the focus on the subject of your analysis, not on yourself. Identifying your opinions weakens them.
Always introduce the work. Do not assume that because your reader knows what you are writing about, you do not need to mention the work's title.
Other questions to consider: Is there a controversy surrounding either the passage or the subject which it concerns?
What about the subject matter is of current interest?
What is the overall value of the passage?
What are its strengths and weaknesses?
Support your thesis with detailed evidence from the text examined. Do not forget to document quotes and paraphrases.
Remember that the purpose of a critical analysis is not merely to inform, but also to evaluate the worth, utility, excellence, distinction, truth, validity, beauty, or goodness of something.
Even though as a writer you set the standards, you should be open-minded, well informed, and fair. You can express your opinions, but you should also back them up with evidence.
Your review should provide information, interpretation, and evaluation. The information will help your reader understand the nature of the work under analysis. The interpretation will explain the meaning of the work, therefore requiring your correct understanding of it. The evaluation will discuss your opinions of the work and present valid justification for them.
It is often helpful to find out what others have written about the literery work you are studying. Keep in mind that criticism has not been published on all literary works. It is easier to find criticism on famous authors than on more obscure writers. Individual short stories or poems can also be challenging.
Literery criticism may be found in a number of forms:
Criticism in Books
Use the NCSU Libraries Catalog to find books by critics who have studied and written about your literary author. Here's a sample search - click for demo.
1) Type Eudora Welty in Search for words: (Anywhere) box
2) Look at the Refine Your Search box on the left, and find the Subject section. Click on Criticism and Interpretation
Criticism in Journal Articles
The library subscribes to a number of online databases that help you locate literary criticism articles.
- Tip: When using any of these databases, keep in mind that your literary author would be considered the subject or topic of the article. The word author in these databases would ordinarily refer to the person who wrote the article, rather than the literary author you are studying.
MLA International Bibliography
This is the most complete database that indexes scholarly literature journals. The articles are often very focused on a narrow topic. Note that MLA does not include research with a primary focus on ancient Greek and Roman (classical) authors. For literary research on classical authors, see the Classics Research Guide.
Tip: To search for criticism on a literary author, you can usually just type the authors name in the 1st search box without limiting to a specific field .If your your literary author has also written criticism, and you want to limit to articles that are about your author, you can use the pulldown to change to SU Subjects-ALL. To narrow your search to criticism of a particular work, you can type the name of the literary work.
Literary Reference Center Plus
Database including full text versions of selected literary criticism.
Academic Search Complete
This is a general interdisciplinary databases that covers many topics. It's not as complete as MLA (see above). But it includes many full-text articles, so it is often a quick way to find an article.
Tip: Since this database also covers popular magazines, you should limit your search by checking the box that says Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.
This is a general interdisciplinary databases that covers many topics. It's not as complete as MLA (see above). JSTOR specializes in providing full text articles going back to the earliest issues of a journal. It has only scholarly journals, not popular magazines.
Tip: To search for criticism on Virginia Woolf, for example, try this:
1) Click on Advanced Search
2) Type Virginia Woolf in The Exact Phrase Box (or, type the name of the specific literary work)
3) Check off Language and Literature in the bottom section under These Discipline(s) and/or Journal(s)
For some current literature or popular books, there may be no criticism published in scholary books or journals, but you may still find book reviews in popular magazines or newspapers.
Academic Search Complete
This is a general interdisciplinary databases that covers many topics, including both scholarly journals and popular magazines, so it includes many book review.
Tip: Type the name of the book. If you choose, you can limit your search book reviews by using the Document Type box under Limit Your Results
Book Reviews Guide
For older books that do not have reviews listed in Academic Search Premier, there are some specialized sources that index book reviews in older periodicals.
This series of reference books collects and reprints literary criticism that was originally published in other places. It includes both excerpts and full reprints. This makes it easy to find criticism written by different people collected in one place. The reprints are arranged chronologically, starting with the earliest. Therefore, these is a good place to look if you want to learn what people were saying about a particular literary work right after it was published, and then trace how opinions evolved over time. The list below show the different series, which are based on the time period that the author live and wrote. If you don't know which set to use, keep in mind that the cumulative indexes in the last volume of each series cross-index one another.
Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC)
[authors now living, or who died after December 31, 1999]
D.H. Hill Library. PN80 .C65 (6th floor bookstacks)
Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism(TCLC)
[authors who died between 1900 and 1999]
D.H. Hill Library. PN771 .G27 (6th floor bookstacks)
Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism (NCLC)
[authors who died between 1800 and 1899]
D.H. Hill Library PN761 .N56 (6th floor bookstacks)
Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800(LC)
[authors who died between 1400 and 1799]
D. H. Hill Library. PN86 .L53 (6th floor bookstacks)
Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism (CMLC)
[authors who died before 1400]
D.H. Hill Library PN661 .C42 (Learning Commons)