Writing a Critical Essay

Table of Contents

One of the most important skills you will develop as a student is critical thinking. This is what enables you to take a written work, art, literature, historical event, political ideology, etc., and offer a thoughtful analysis. These analyses also prove that you have developed the competencies and level of understanding required in any given academic discipline. To help you master these critical assignments, we’ve created this guide. Below, we will discuss critical essay topics, how to write a critical essay step by step, and other writing tips.

This is just one of the ways that we are here to help you with your latest critical analysis paper, critical lens essay, or another writing assignment. To learn other ways to get help, be sure to read to the very end.

Critical Analysis Essay Definition

Perhaps the best way to describe a critical analysis essay is to say that it is an academic paper written to demonstrate that you understand something at a deep level. It is meant to demonstrate your critical thinking skills. This is your ability to dig into a subject, and truly understand it. For example, without critical thinking, Huckleberry Finn may just seem to be a story about a boy and his friends during pre-civil-war-time. It takes critical thinking, and analysis to understand the themes in the book dealing with issues such as racism and religion. 

To write a successful, critical analysis, you have to read or otherwise examine your subject in depth. Then, you write an essay sharing your educated opinion. Yes, this means that this is a subjective paper, but your analysis must reveal that you understand the topic. You can’t simply critique something by stating your likes and dislikes.

Sample Critical Essay

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The First Step to Writing a Critical Analysis Paper

The first thing you’ll do is read, watch, or otherwise take in the subject of your analysis. This is an in-depth process, and must be done with a critical lens. A critical lens is a way of looking at something with a focus on the creator’s style choices, themes, character interactions, use of visuals, etc. You can look online for critical lens examples to get an idea. 

You may have to read or watch something multiple times. The first might be to get the main ideas. On another read through, you might pay particular attention to the dialogue. During a third, you might look for repeating themes, such as references to nature.

As you take things in, keep one question in mind. What is the creator’s purpose? Are they attempting to persuade their audience? If so, you should know who that audience is? Perhaps they are trying to communicate a specific point, or get you to think about something differently. This is important. Rather than focusing on whether you like or dislike something, this helps you to focus on whether the creator is successful.

Take plenty of notes during this process. It will help you to record your observations and thoughts as you consume the content.

Critical Essay Topic Ideas

In all likelihood, your instructor will provide your topic for you. However, in some cases, you may simply be expected to choose a topic from a certain period or genre. If so, your best choice is to select something that is of interest to you, and that has enough depth and complexity to be interesting. Consider some of the following:


  • To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Tom Sawyer

  • Huckleberry Finn

  • The Scarlet Letter

  • A Handmaid's Tale

  • A Tale of Two Cities

  • The Color Purple

  • 1984 

  • The Lord of The Flies

Plays And Films

  • Citizen Kane

  • Black Swan

  • Apocalypse Now

  • Taxi Driver

  • Full Metal Jacket

  • Wings of Desire

  • Sophie's Choice

  • Americal Beauty

  • 12 Angry Men

  • Hamlet

  • Biloxi Blues

  • The Vagina Monologues


  • Graceland

  • Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • Thriller

  • Purple Rain

  • Pet Sounds

  • The Joshua Tree

  • London Calling

  • Dark Side of The Moon

  • Straight Outta Compton

  • Tapestry

Visual And Performance Art

  • The Works of Banksy

  • Rembrandt’s Self Portrait With Two Circles

  • Guernica by Picasso

  • Everything by Adrian Piper

  • The Scream

  • The Persistence of Memory

Anything created with a purpose that evokes thoughts and emotions can be the subject of critical analysis. Depending on the class, even an advertising campaign or video game could be critically analyzed.

Critical essay writing infographic

Critique Essay Outline

If your instructor requires that you turn in an outline, they may provide you with an example of a critical essay layout. In that case, use that as a bit of a template to create your essay. Otherwise, create an outline in whatever format best helps you. The point of the outline is to assist you in creating something to organize your thoughts, and to build the basic structure for your paper. However, you choose to build your essay, be sure it includes the following information:

  • The Title or Name of The Piece

  • The Author or Creator

  • The Subject 

  • The Purpose (as you understand it)

  • Publication Data

  • An Attention-Grabbing Hook

  • A Summary Based on Your Analysis

  • Your Thesis Statement

  • Your Interpretation of The Work

    • The Author’s Style

    • The Intended Audience

    • The Appeal or Effectiveness of The Work

  • Conclusion

As you create your outline, take a few things into consideration. What is the current relevance of the piece? What was its relevance at the time it was created? Were there social or political happenings that played a role? What value does or did the work bring.

Critical Anaysis Rough Draft

If you want to know how to begin a critical essay, start with the outline. Now that you have that taken care of, it’s time to create your rough draft. If you’ve ever seen a house being built, think of your outline as the framing. Now it’s time to take that basic structure, and add the elements that make it an essay. You’ll take the points from your outline and convert them into fully formed sentences and paragraphs.

Remember that your analysis should build on itself as you write. For example, you could take your readers on a journey of your thoughts, observations, and perceptions as you consumed the piece you are analyzing. 

Critical Analysis Final Draft

Now it’s time to truly polish things, and ensure that your writing meets your own standards as well as the expectations of your instructor. First, take the time to ensure that your paper is factually and technically correct. Find and fix any spelling or grammatical errors. Make sure that any statements of fact are properly sourced and verified.

Next, check for readability. Are you transitioning smoothly from one paragraph to the next? Are your thoughts stated clearly? Is your writing at the appropriate level for your target audience? Will they relate to your point of view, and the way you express it.

Best critical paper topics

  • Different ways in which men and women communicate
  • What makes drug use in sports a problem?
  • Why homeless people are still an issue in the 21st century?
  • Is the body-positivity trend promoting obesity?
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Critical Analysis Writing Tips

Here are some closing tips to help with research and writing.

  • Don’t simply observe the work itself. Research it and the creator as well.

  • Ask for a critical essay example to better understand what your instructor wants.

  • Use your assignment rubric to double-check your work.

  • Include an interesting fact or story about the work or the creator.

  • Be cautious about letting your opinion influence your analysis.


Getting Critical Analysis Paper Help

In addition to this guide, there are other essay guides available to you to peruse. We strongly encourage you to do that. If you still need help, know that we are available 24/7 to field your questions and assist you with your writing.

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