Critical Analysis in Composition

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Critical analysis involves close reading and evaluation of a work. Westend61 / Getty Images

In composition, critical analysis is a careful examination and evaluation of a text, image, or other work or performance.

Performing a critical analysis does not necessarily involve finding fault with a work. On the contrary, a thoughtful critical analysis may help us understand the interaction of the particular elements that contribute to a work's power and effectiveness. For this reason, critical analysis is a central component of academic training; the skill of critical analysis is most often thought of in the context of analyzing a work of art or literature, but the same techniques are useful to build an understanding of texts and resources in any discipline.

In this context, the word "critical" carries a different connotation than in vernacular, everyday speech. "Critical" here does not simply mean pointing out a work's flaws or arguing why it is objectionable by some standard. Instead, it points towards a close reading of that work to gather meaning, as well as to evaluate its merits. The evaluation is not the sole point of critical analysis, which is where it differs from the colloquial meaning of "criticize."

Examples of Critical Essays

Quotes About Critical Analysis

  • "[C]ritical analysis involves breaking down an idea or a statement, such as a claim, and subjecting it to critical thinking in order to test its validity."
    (Eric Henderson, The Active Reader: Strategies for Academic Reading and Writing. Oxford University Press, 2007)​
  • "To write an effective critical analysis, you need to understand the difference between analysis and summary. . . . [A] critical analysis looks beyond the surface of a text—it does far more than summarize a work. A critical analysis isn't simply dashing off a few words about the work in general."
    (Why Write?: A Guide to BYU Honors Intensive Writing. Brigham Young University, 2006)
  • "Although the main purpose of a critical analysis is not to persuade, you do have the responsibility of organizing a discussion that convinces readers that your analysis is astute."
    (Robert Frew et al., Survival: A Sequential Program for College Writing. Peek, 1985)

Critical Thinking and Research

"[I]n response to the challenge that a lack of time precludes good, critical analysis, we say that good, critical analysis saves time. How? By helping you be more efficient in terms of the information you gather. Starting from the premise that no practitioner can claim to collect all the available information, there must always be a degree of selection that takes place. By thinking analytically from the outset, you will be in a better position to 'know' which information to collect, which information is likely to be more or less significant and to be clearer about what questions you are seeking to answer."
(David Wilkins and Godfred Boahen, Critical Analysis Skills For Social Workers. McGraw-Hill, 2013)

How to Read Text Critically

"Being critical in academic enquiry means: - adopting an attitude of skepticism or reasoned doubt towards your own and others' knowledge in the field of enquiry . . .
- habitually questioning the quality of your own and others' specific claims to knowledge about the field and the means by which these claims were generated;
- scrutinizing claims to see how far they are convincing . . .;
- respecting others as people at all times. Challenging others' work is acceptable, but challenging their worth as people is not;
- being open-minded, willing to be convinced if scrutiny removes your doubts, or to remain unconvinced if it does not;
- being constructive by putting your attitude of skepticism and your open-mindedness to work in attempting to achieve a worthwhile goal." (Mike Wallace and Louise Poulson, "Becoming a Critical Consumer of the Literature." Learning to Read Critically in Teaching and Learning, ed. by Louise Poulson and Mike Wallace. SAGE, 2004)

Critically Analyzing Persuasive Ads

"[I]n my first-year composition class, I teach a four-week advertisement analysis project as a way to not only heighten students' awareness of the advertisements they encounter and create on a daily basis but also to encourage students to actively engage in a discussion about critical analysis by examining rhetorical appeals in persuasive contexts. In other words, I ask students to pay closer attention to a part of the pop culture in which they live.
" . . . Taken as a whole, my ad analysis project calls for several writing opportunities in which students write essays, responses, reflections, and peer assessments. In the four weeks, we spend a great deal of time discussing the images and texts that make up advertisements, and through writing about them, students are able to heighten their awareness of the cultural 'norms' and stereotypes which are represented and reproduced in this type of communication."
(Allison Smith, Trixie Smith, and Rebecca Bobbitt, Teaching in the Pop Culture Zone: Using Popular Culture in the Composition Classroom. Wadsworth Cengage, 2009)

Critically Analyzing Video Games

"When dealing with a game's significance, one could analyze the themes of the game be they social, cultural, or even political messages. Most current reviews seem to focus on a game's success: why it is successful, how successful it will be, etc. Although this is an important aspect of what defines the game, it is not critical analysis. Furthermore, the reviewer should dedicate some to time to speaking about what the game has to contribute to its genre (Is it doing something new? Does it present the player with unusual choices? Can it set a new standard for what games of this type should include?)."
(Mark Mullen, "On Second Thought . . ." Rhetoric/Composition/Play Through Video Games: Reshaping Theory and Practice, ed. by Richard Colby, Matthew S.S. Johnson, and Rebekah Shultz Colby. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

Critical Thinking and Visuals

"The current critical turn in rhetoric and composition studies underscores the role of the visual, especially the image artifact, in agency. For instance, in Just Advocacy? a collection of essays focusing on the representation of women and children in international advocacy efforts, coeditors Wendy S. Hesford and Wendy Kozol open their introduction with a critical analysis of a documentary based on a picture: the photograph of an unknown Afghan girl taken by Steve McCurry and gracing the cover of National Geographic in 1985. Through an examination of the ideology of the photo's appeal as well as the 'politics of pity' circulating through the documentary, Hesford and Kozol emphasize the power of individual images to shape perceptions, beliefs, actions, and agency."
(Kristie S. Fleckenstein, Vision, Rhetoric, and Social Action in the Composition Classroom. Southern Illinois University Press, 2010)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Critical Analysis in Composition." ThoughtCo, Feb. 12, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 12). Critical Analysis in Composition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Critical Analysis in Composition." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).