The purpose of a critical analysis is to help your reader gain
new insight into both the strengths and the weaknesses of the work you’re analysing.

A critical analysis is different from both a summary and an argument. In a summary, your job is simply to convey the author’s essential points in fewer words. In an argument, your job is to deploy and defend a thesis. As such, an argument is generally narrower than a critical analysis. After all, an argument only presents material that defends your thesis and responds to potential counterarguments. A critical analysis, by contrast, engages all of the most significant points to be made regardless of whether they can be aligned into a single argument.

Crafting the Analysis

Using quotes from the text will help to anchor your analysis. For instance, you might conclude that the author makes leaps in his or her logic. By quoting the author, you can elucidate such missteps. Or perhaps you are impressed by the author’s rhetorical strategy of preempting the objections of his or her most likely critics. You can highlight this by using quotes to show just how he or she does this.

When crafting a critical analysis, it can be tempting to simply deploy a number of quotes each with some exegesis. This, however, is closer to a summary than a critical analysis of the text. You should indeed use quotes; but you should go beyond merely explaining their meaning.

Instead, you might consider the following questions:
  • Do you agree or disagree with the author’s thesis? Why or why not?
  • How well does the evidence fit with the author’s argument? Does the evidence actually test the author’s hypotheses?
  • Is it possible to interpret the same evidence differently?
  • Is there other evidence available (i.e. other cases and/or other data) that cuts against the author’s argument?
  • What (implicit and explicit) assumptions does the author make? How reasonable are these assumptions? How might our conclusions change if we were to make other reasonable assumptions?
  • What biases shape the piece?
  • How strong is the author’s logic? Where could it be improved?
  • To what extent, and in what ways, might this piece be shaped by the context in which it was created?
  • To whom and/or to what is this piece responding (implicitly and explicitly)? How might this have shaped the piece itself?
  • How does this piece relate to other pieces in the course? In the field?
  • What are the author’s rhetorical strategies? Are these strategies effective? Are they useful?
  • What were the author’s motivations?
  • How ambitious is the author’s argument & analysis? (Remember, of course, that pieces with greater ambition might be held to a different standard than those with less ambition.) How does this level of ambition compare to other, related pieces in the field?
  • What is the significance of the piece?
  • What is the relevance of the piece today? In other contexts?

You do not need to answer all of these questions in a critical analysis. These are simply
some of the kinds of things that good critical analyses engage.

For additional thoughts on critical writing, see this

To see an exemplary critical analysis from a fellow student, see this