Critical essay writing: a step by step approach
To achieve high marks at an advanced level of study it is essential that you adopt a critical approach in your written work.
Merely repeating what you have learnt will not suffice.
Rather you must reach a judgement over the topic in question.
You must decide what your main argument will be and support it with relevant facts and sound reasoning.
1. Decide on your main argument - your most important line of argument should run consistently through your essay or other written work. Further arguments, reasoning and evidence will be needed to add weight to your main one.
2. Gather the evidence - you will gather lots of evidence at the research stage of your essay writing but you must then be selective about which pieces of evidence you use.
Too many will obscure your case and make the essay difficult to read and understand, so make sure that you choose the most convincing ones and that they clearly support your main line of reasoning.
3. Consider other points of view - how could someone argue against your case? If you have considered this as you write, your work will be much clearer and more convincing.
You need to look at your arguments objectively so that you can consider not just the strengths but also the weaknesses in your case.
If you can see a weakness and perhaps see that another writer could make a completely opposite case, you should try to deal with this in your essay.
Make the evidence for your main line of reasoning stronger and also bring the opposing view into your essay with evidence that you have found against it. Balance the weaknesses you find with strong evidence.
4 Reach a clear conclusion - this is most important. If your conclusion is not clear, your whole essay will lose its impact.
From the very first words of your introductory paragraph and through all your arguments, the writing should be leading towards your conclusion.
Your readers should be in no doubt as to what your conclusion is.
It is a good idea to write down your conclusion as soon as you have decided what it will be perhaps this will be early on in your research when you have just started to gather evidence – and you may need to refine it along the way, but knowing your conclusion will give you a better chance of producing a coherent piece of work.
5 Review your work - a quick read-through is not enough for critical writing and thinking. That may just find a few grammatical errors or maybe a bit of rewriting that is necessary but with critical thinking, a deeper evaluation is necessary. You will need to ask yourself questions such as:
- Is my main argument clear?
- Have I produced sufficient evidence to back it up? Have I got specifics – names, dates, numerical data, sources and so on?
- Have I put this argument in both the introduction and the conclusion?
- Is any of my reasoning flawed?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
- Is the conclusion clear?
If you can follow these steps and answer these questions, you should be able to produce an essay – or other work – that will earn you good marks.