Critique of an Argument
(Also called Analysis, Rhetorical Analysis, or Close Reading)
What it is:
A critique is an essay in which you evaluate (comment on the positive and negative aspects of) an essay or article. A critique can be positive (reasons the argument worked), negative (reasons the argument did not work), or shaded (reasons parts of it worked and parts of it didn’t). When you write a critique, it is important to keep in mind that you are not making suggestions for the author—odds are the author isn’t interested in what you think she could have done differently—you are writing for another reader. A critique is often born out of reaction (you liked or disliked the argument), but is based on and supported by close reading and evaluation, not just how you feel.
Writing a critique requires that you have a clear understanding of the essay. You should know the argument, the purpose, and the ways that the author supports the argument. If you can’t clearly articulate those things, you’ll have a hard time critiquing them. For tips on that process, see the summary page.
Sometimes a critique is called an analysis or a close reading. In all cases you’re offering your own reasoned response to the ideas that the writer presents and the way the writer presents them.
What to do:
Begin by summarizing the piece. You’ll likely need a brief overview in your introduction anyway, and it never hurts to have a firm sense of the argument in your head before you begin a critique. In many cases your instructor will require you to begin a critique with a summary.
Decide whether your critique will be positive or negative. Are you interested in the positives of the piece or the negatives? Did the author convince you or not? Do you want to highlight a combination of positive and negative?
Pick several specific points from the essay that you wish to use as your supporting claims. You might take issue with an author’s organization or tone, or with her use of supporting arguments. The more specific you are in your points, the better your critique will be. See below for a list of possible critique points.
The thesis of a critique is relatively straightforward. You simply need to present your evaluation of the article you’re critiquing. You then support that thesis using the several points you’ve chosen.
In each paragraph of a critique, develop one of your points. Use specific examples from the text. If you want to say that the author’s tone was inappropriate for the subject matter, find a quote and then explain how the tone is inappropriate and why. Usually each paragraph explains only one example. You might have two paragraphs that discuss different examples of the same general point—for instance, two different examples of inappropriate tone.
The number of body paragraphs depends on the length of the assignment. A two-page critique might not have more than two or three body paragraphs. A four-page critique might require five or six body paragraphs. Choose enough examples so that you can discuss each one in its own body paragraph. A general rule of thumb is that body paragraphs should be about a half a page long, double-spaced.
In your conclusion, you want to remind readers of your thesis and pull all of your examples together. You don’t want your conclusion to simply restate your introduction, nor do you want to provide entirely new information. You want to naturally draw readers to an end.
*Elements to Critique
Here is a list of various elements you can look for in an article you want to critique. Keep in mind that not every item will be appropriate to every article.
Logic: Has the writer picked examples that logically support her claim? Is her reasoning (the way she works out her ideas) in line with the claim and what you know to be true?
Logic: Does the writer have reasonable support but is the overall claim itself flawed? (one might claim that global warming doesn’t exist, and then use sources...
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