Learning Criticism to Create Better Academic Essays

Learning from other academic essays will help you improve your own writing. But learning from others is more than just reading and mimicking what others write. You need to be proactive in your reading and learn criticism techniques that help you understand all the components of a successful academic essay.

Instructors will occasionally provide a critical essay assignment to learn these techniques. The idea is that every reader should be able to identify the primary strengths and weaknesses in essays. But it’s the kind of exercise you might want to take on yourself whenever you feel you need to improve your writing.

Criticism isn’t quite what you think.

Criticism isn’t an attempt to look for ways to tear apart an essay and be disrespectful to the authors. The emphasis of academic criticism shouldn’t be about making your own point heard, but rather critiquing how effectively the author has made his or her point heard, regardless if you agree with it or not.

Consider the following broad categories when critiquing an academic essay:

  • Critiquing Content:
  • When you critique content you want to look at the way the topic developed throughout the essay. Look for focus and clarity in the paper’s argument. Topic sentences and supporting evidence should be clear that it’s obvious to you and other readers what the subject of each paragraph is.

  • Critiquing Organization:
  • Look at the way an academic essay is introduced and concluded. Is the thesis clear and is the essay structured in a way to support the thesis? Look at individual paragraphs to see if there is enough supporting evidence present. It’s generally a best practice to put the best evidence in support of an argument near the end of the essay. Does the essay you’re critiquing do this?

  • Critiquing Style:
  • Check for the tone of the essay – the tone could be humorous, reflective, serious or any of a number of different tones that could make their way in this type of writing – and determine whether it’s appropriate for the essay and whether it comes across effectively. Look at the style of individual sentences, whether there are a variety of sentence styles and lengths and whether word choice is appropriate.

These are just a few of the categories you should look for when critiquing an academic essay. Most published papers in books and journals are likely to be free of grammar and punctuation errors, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from other components. Take the time to learn how to appropriately critique an academic essay and you’ll quickly find improvement in your own writing.

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