Writing a Critical Essay
Writing a Critical Essay A critical essay is one in which you analyze and critically evaluate another person’s argument. Your essay should include the following four elements:
- Introduction: Identify the title, author, and context of the essay you are critically evaluating. Summarize very briefly the writer’s basic position and state in general terms your overall evaluation of the argument.
- Argument summary: Standardize the writer’s argument using the five-step method presented in Chapter 7 (see below).
- Critical evaluation: Evaluate the argument; that is, say whether you think the argument is a good, convincing argument and give reasons to support your view. You may find it helpful to keep in mind the following general guidelines on evaluating arguments, discussed earlier in this chapter:
- Are the premises true? (Note: You may need to do some research to make an informed judgment on this issue.) Is the reasoning good? Is the argument deductively valid or inductively strong?
- Does the arguer commit any logical fallacies?
- Does the writer express his or her points clearly and precisely?
- Are the arguer’s claims logically consistent?
- Is the argument complete? Is all relevant evidence taken into account?
- Is the argument fair?
- Is the arguer fair in his or her presentation of the evidence and treatment of opposing arguments and views?
- Conclusion: Briefly restate the key points of your critical response to reinforce them in the reader’s mind. If possible, end with a strong concluding line (e.g., an apt quotation) that nicely sums up your response or puts the issue in a larger context.
A sample critical essay is included in an appendix to this chapter.
How to Standardize an Extended Argument: 5-step method
- Read through the argument carefully and try to identify its main conclusion (it may be only implied). Once you have identified the main conclusion, go back through the argument to identify major premises and subconclusions offered in support of the main conclusion. Paraphrase as needed to clarify meaning.
- Omit any unnecessary or irrelevant material. Focus only on the key points in the argument. Omit any statements that provide little or no direct support for the main conclusion.
- Number the steps in the argument and stack them in correct logical order (i.e., with the premises placed above the conclusions they are intended to support). State the main conclusion last.
- Fill in any key missing premises or conclusions. Don’t worry about filling in all missing steps in the argument. Include only those missing premises or conclusions that are important in understanding and evaluating the central argument. Place brackets around implied statements to indicate that they have been added to the argument.
- Add parenthetical justifications for each conclusion in the argument. In other words, for each conclusion or subconclusion, indicate in parentheses from which previous lines in the argument the conclusion or subconclusion is claimed to directly follow.