What Is a Critique in Composition?

Tips on Writing a Peer Review

Students working on a composition.

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A critique is a formal analysis and evaluation of a text, production, or performance—either one's own (a self-critique) or someone else's. In composition, a critique is sometimes called a response paper. When written by another expert in the field, a critique can also be called a peer review. Peer reviews are done to decide whether to accept an article for publication in a scholarly journal or, in an education setting, can be done in groups of students who offer feedback to each other on their papers (peer response).

Critiques differ from reviews (these are also different from peer reviews) in that critiques offer more depth to their analysis. Think of the difference between a scholarly article examining a work of literature in a journal (critique) and the kinds of topics that would be covered there vs. a few-hundred-word review of a book in a newspaper or magazine for the lay audience, for readers to decide whether they should purchase it. 

Compare the term critique with critical analysis, critical essayand evaluation essay.

Critiquing criteria are the standards, rules, or tests that serve as the bases for judgments. 

Critiquing a Paper

A critique starts out with a summary of the topic of the paper but differs from a straight summary because it adds the reviewer's analysis.

If a critique is happening to the first draft of a paper, the issues brought by the reviewers need to be large-scale issues with the premise or procedure of obtaining the results—in the case of a scientific paper peer review—and arguments, such as flaws in logic or source material and fallacies, rather than be criticisms on a line level (grammar and the like). Ambiguity and irony presented in the paper could be targets as well.

"The critique is the process of objectively and critically evaluating a research report's content for scientific merit and application to practice, theory, and education, write Geri LoBiondo-Wood and Judith Haber. "It requires some knowledge of the subject matter and knowledge of how to critically read and use critiquing criteria." ("Nursing Research: Methods and Critical Appraisal for Evidence-Based Practice." Elsevier Health Sciences, 2006)

A critique should also point out what works well, not just the flaws in the paper. 

"A critique should emphasize first what the article contributes to the field and then identify the shortcomings or limitations," write authors H. Beall and J. Trimbur. "In other words, a critique is a balanced appraisal, not a hatchet job." ("How to Read a Scientific Article." In "Communicating Science: Professional Contexts," ed. by Eileen Scanlon et al. Taylor & Francis, 1998)

The Purpose of a Critique

Arguments by the reviewer also need to be backed up with evidence. It isn't enough just to say that the paper in question is flawed but also how it's flawed and why—what's the proof that the argument won't hold up?

"It is important to be clear about what a critique is supposed to accomplish," write authors C. Grant Luckhardt and William Bechtel. They continue:

A critique is not the same as a demonstration that the conclusion of someone's argument is false. Imagine that someone has circulated a memorandum arguing that your company retain your current legal counsel. You, however, are convinced that it is time for a change, and want to demonstrate that....It is important to note here that you can prepare such a demonstration without mentioning any of your colleague's arguments or rebutting them. A critique of your colleague's demonstration, in contrast, requires you to examine the arguments in the demonstration and show that they fail to establish the conclusion that the current legal counsel should be retained.
"A critique of your colleague's demonstration does not show that its conclusion is wrong. It only shows that the arguments advanced do not establish the conclusion it is claimed they do." ("How to Do Things With Logic." Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994)

For more information on how to put one together, you may wish to also read "How to Write a Response Paper."

Self-Critiques in Creative Writing

A related term to critiquing used frequently in scholarly Bible study is exegesis, though it doesn't apply only to Bible scholarship.

"An exegesis (in a creative writing discourse)...is a scholarly piece of writing with a focus on textual analysis and comparison using literature which relates to your creative writing project. Usually an exegesis is longer than a critique and reads more like a dissertation. There tends to be greater emphasis on your chosen comparative text than on your own creative writing project, with a clear thesis linking the two.
"The good news is, once you learn how to write a critique on your creative process, you will find that it actually helps you to better understand your creative writing." (Tara Mokhtari, The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing. Bloomsbury, 2015)