What is a critique?

A critique is a piece of writing that forms a supported opinion, or evaluation, about another text/subject based on a careful analysis. A critique does this by:

  • Summarizing—a critique includes a brief description of the text/subject you are critiquing and is found early in the essay to ground the reader. It works under the assumption that readers may be unfamiliar with the text/subject.
  • Responding—a critique states your overall evaluation of the text/subject, which may be positive, negative, or mixed (a combination of the two). This evaluation appears in the thesis statement and signals the motivation of your writing.
  • Analyzing—a critique shows how your evaluation was formed with concrete evidence (quotations or paraphrasing) from your text/subject. This information may be outlined in the thesis statement and will be fully presented in the body paragraphs.
  • Interpreting—a critique explains how and why your evidence supports your evaluation of your text/subject. This information will appear in the body paragraphs and, possibly, in the conclusion.
    • Tip: analysis and interpretation are often combined or appear in close proximity.

Strategies for Writing a Critique

Prepare for writing a critique by reading for a critique. That is, read closely! Read more than once and take notes.

  • Highlight/underline your text as you read.
    Jot down initial reactions in the margins or on a separate sheet of paper, with corresponding page numbers.
  • Ask questions along the way to help you reach your evaluation: in what style is the text/subject written? who is the intended audience? Is the author responding to something—what is the context in which the text/subject was produced?

After reading closely, you should be able to answer the following:

  • Name the author(s), the title, and any other relevant information about your text/subject.
  • State what motivates the text, and its overall goal(s) and purpose(s.) A text might be motivated by a response, summary, claim, or something else. Ask yourself, why did the author(s) write this? What is it supposed to accomplish?
    • The verbs the author uses may indicate their motivation. For example, the verb “argue” signals their motivation is to make a claim, while the verb “discuss” suggests their motivation is to inform.
  • Decide if the goals of your text/subject were successfully achieved (positive critique), were poorly achieved (negative critique), or were partially achieved (mixed critique).
  • Support your decision with specific evidence from your text/subject. Use quotations, paraphrasing, and include the appropriate citations.
    • Tip: use author signaling to clarify your voice (1st POV: It seems to me that... or 3rd POV: It seems that...) from the voice of your evidence (According to author X, the...).

Once you’ve answered the above, you are ready to write your critique.

  • Tip: use your notes while you work through the writing modes—summary, response, analysis, and interpretation. Let your notes act as shortcuts to your evaluation and evidence.
  • If you aren’t sure where to begin, draft an outline with an introduction, specific body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
    • The introduction presents the subject of the paper by naming the author(s), the title, your summary of your subject, and your evaluation in your thesis statement.
    • All body paragraphs further your thesis/evaluation, but each body paragraph focuses on a single topic. The body paragraphs include your analysis and your interpretation of this evidence. They should be ordered in a logical manner, using your thesis statement as a cohesive thread.
    • The conclusion includes your final thoughts about your text/subject. Your evaluation/thesis statement will be stated again but should be more nuanced, showing how your critique went somewhere. This nuanced evaluation should be logical—all your analysis and interpretation has led to it—and could be a concession, recommendation, call-to-action, PSA, or something else. It’s normal if you don’t know what it will be until you reach the end of the essay.

Additional Resources

General Sources:

Birkenstein, Cathy, and Gerald Graff. They Say / I Say. 4th ed., WW Norton, 2018.

Essay Writing. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U, 2020,

Lunsford, Andrea A.  The St. Martin’s Handbook. 8th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015.

Profile of Madeline Vardell

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Madeline Vardell

Writing Studio Consultant