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Critique Writing, Common Mistakes to Avoid

Critique Writing - Common Mistakes to Avoid

Jun 01, 2013
Whether we know it or not, most of us have written our fair share or critique essays in our time. From the standard book report to a twenty-page college term paper, critique writing is a common practice at all levels of academia. Even so, many students start out on the wrong foot and deliver a paper that is more opinion than it is fact. While it is true that these essays require personal input, that input should be objective and dispassionate.

Is that possible?

In truth, it's harder than ever. Most of us are taught from an early age to value our own opinions above all else, so to take ourselves out of the equation requires some heavy lifting. We must gain some much needed perspective by taking a step back and putting our preconceived notions aside. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Writing an objective analysis of a scientific or literary book or article requires discipline that some students lack. Many have trouble sticking to the facts and they therefore compose a paper based almost entirely on emotional opinions. That is not how to go about writing a critique essay. Whether the subject is a book, movie, song, or poem, you must ask yourself one simple question: did the creator support his/her main points?

The medium may be the message

As a general rule, it is much easier to be objective, or at least more objective, regarding certain types of media. A scholarly essay, for example, is often approached more seriously than a pop song. This gravitas helps give us the intellectual and emotional distance we need to compose an effective critique essay. Without that distance, it may be impossible to write an unbiased paper. It is for this reason that we strongly suggest that you select a topic you are not passionate about, should you have the choice.
We know, it seems counterintuitive...after all, teachers are always telling us to write about what we know, and what we know is almost always what we are passionate about. But more often than not, that passion can cloud our judgment, which is the last thing we want when it comes to a critique essay. Instead, select a topic that you are relatively unfamiliar with and form your own opinions based on the facts. That will help you avoid the tendentiousness that comes with familiarity.

Where to begin?

Read or watch or listen to the subject of your paper several times, or until you grasp the purpose of the piece. Always remember that your instructors want you to do more than simply summarize a piece, they want you to add you own two cents. That means you must cast judgments, whether good or bad. A common misconception of critique writing is that it must be critical. Nothing could be further from the truth! Therefore, it is often best to think of a critique essay as an evaluation essay. That simple substitution alters the orientation of the paper from a negative to a neutral perspective, which is exactly where you want to be.

Questions you must answer

Even if you set a dispassion tone, which you should, several questions must be addressed. As with any critique, you must answer how? why? and how well? The first query relates to our subject; the second, to the reason behind it; and the third, to what we think about it. Once again, our opinions need not be negative or positive in tone, but they must be supported by facts. This is the single most common misstep most critique writers make. To avoid this, you must analyze the work and discuss its creator's purpose and main points, one at a time.

Be fearless

Do not be afraid to mix the good with the bad. Far too many writers believe that they must be overwhelmingly negative or overwhelmingly positive. But if you have ever read a movie review, you know that that is seldom the case. As with any work that someone poured their heart, sweat, blood, and money into, there are bound to be good things and bad things. So, even if you believe that the work was ultimately a failure, if there were a few positives, mention them!

Facts, facts, fact

We've said it before and we'll say it again, evaluating anything requires more than mere opinion. When you discuss the creator's main points or themes, you must use evidence to determine whether or not he/she was ultimately successful in getting them across. This is generally easier to do in a work of nonfiction, since the facts can be checked, but it can also be done for any work of fiction.

Write a proper essay

Yet another mistake many students make is that they write critique essays in a more informal way because they include personal opinions. This is a misstep that their teachers and professors will not overlook or forgive. Just like any essay, a piece should have am introduction, a thesis, a body, and a conclusion. You can't simply give your opinion without taking the right steps or using the proper format.
As with all essays, your introductory paragraph sets the tone for your entire paper. This first paragraph must mention the topic and its creators as well as your overall impressions of the work. Do you believe that the creator succeeded in his/her purpose, whatever that may have been? The next few paragraphs will form the body of your critique and they must include specific information to support your opinions. When citing sources, the information should be included in either a footnote or on the works cited page or both.

Last words

The conclusion of your critique essay should be a short, succinct review of your opinions on your topic. Many students make the mistake of overwriting this final section. They often try to pack everything they said and even some things they didn't into this concluding paragraph. Our advice? Don't! Going out on a good note is always easier if you simply reiterate what you have said in a few short sentences.
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