What is a critique?
A critique is a genre of academic writing that briefly summarises and critically evaluates a work or concept. Critiques can be used to carefully analyse a variety of works such as:
- Creative works – novels, exhibits, film, images, poetry
- Research – monographs, journal articles, systematic reviews, theories
- Media – news reports, feature articles
Like an essay, a critique uses a formal, academic writing style and has a clear structure, that is, an introduction, body and conclusion. However, the body of a critique includes a summary of the work and a detailed evaluation. The purpose of an evaluation is to gauge the usefulness or impact of a work in a particular field.
Why do we write critiques?
Writing a critique on a work helps us to develop:
- A knowledge of the work’s subject area or related works.
- An understanding of the work’s purpose, intended audience, development of argument, structure of evidence or creative style.
- A recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of the work.
How to write a critique
Before you start writing, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the work that will be critiqued.
- Study the work under discussion.
- Make notes on key parts of the work.
- Develop an understanding of the main argument or purpose being expressed in the work.
- Consider how the work relates to a broader issue or context.
There are a variety of ways to structure a critique. You should always check your unit materials or blackboard site for guidance from your lecturer. The following template, which showcases the main features of a critique, is provided as one example.
Typically, the introduction is short (less than 10% of the word length) and you should:
- Name the work being reviewed as well as the date it was created and the name of the author/creator.
- Describe the main argument or purpose of the work.
- Explain the context in which the work was created. This could include the social or political context, the place of the work in a creative or academic tradition, or the relationship between the work and the creator’s life experience.
- Have a concluding sentence that signposts what your evaluation of the work will be. For instance, it may indicate whether it is a positive, negative, or mixed evaluation.
Briefly summarise the main points and objectively describe how the creator portrays these by using techniques, styles, media, characters or symbols. This summary should not be the focus of the critique and is usually shorter than the critical evaluation.
This section should give a systematic and detailed assessment of the different elements of the work, evaluating how well the creator was able to achieve the purpose through these. For example: you would assess the plot structure, characterisation and setting of a novel; an assessment of a painting would look at composition, brush strokes, colour and light; a critique of a research project would look at subject selection, design of the experiment, analysis of data and conclusions.
A critical evaluation does not simply highlight negative impressions. It should deconstruct the work and identify both strengths and weaknesses. It should examine the work and evaluate its success, in light of its purpose.
Examples of key critical questions that could help your assessment include:
- Who is the creator? Is the work presented objectively or subjectively?
- What are the aims of the work? Were the aims achieved?
- What techniques, styles, media were used in the work? Are they effective in portraying the purpose?
- What assumptions underlie the work? Do they affect its validity?
- What types of evidence or persuasion are used? Has evidence been interpreted fairly?
- How is the work structured? Does it favour a particular interpretation or point of view? Is it effective?
- Does the work enhance understanding of key ideas or theories? Does the work engage (or fail to engage) with key concepts or other works in its discipline?
This evaluation is written in formal academic style and logically presented. Group and order your ideas into paragraphs. Start with the broad impressions first and then move into the details of the technical elements. For shorter critiques, you may discuss the strengths of the works, and then the weaknesses. In longer critiques, you may wish to discuss the positive and negative of each key critical question in individual paragraphs.
To support the evaluation, provide evidence from the work itself, such as a quote or example, and you should also cite evidence from related sources. Explain how this evidence supports your evaluation of the work.
This is usually a very brief paragraph, which includes:
- A statement indicating the overall evaluation of the work
- A summary of the key reasons, identified during the critical evaluation, why this evaluation was formed.
- In some circumstances, recommendations for improvement on the work may be appropriate.
Include all resources cited in your critique. Check with your lecturer/tutor for which referencing style to use.
Checklist for a critique
- Mentioned the name of the work, the date of its creation and the name of the creator?
- Accurately summarised the work being critiqued?
- Mainly focused on the critical evaluation of the work?
- Systematically outlined an evaluation of each element of the work to achieve the overall purpose?
- used evidence, from the work itself as well as other sources, to back and illustrate my assessment of elements of of the work?
- formed an overall evaluation of the work, based on critical reading?
- used a well structured introduction, body and conclusion?
- used correct grammar, spelling and punctuation; clear presentation; and appropriate referencing style?
University of New South Wales - some general criteria for evaluating works
University of Toronto - The book review or article critique
A critique of the short story A Good Man is Hard to Find
O’Connor’s succeeds to bring out his arguments in this short story to sum up the feeling that in today’s world, societal morals and values have drastically crumbled making the world an inhabitable place.
The author presents his main theme of fate by bringing the reader to a family’s holiday which is unfortunately brought to a sudden end by a murder (O’Connor 36). The grandmother argues that the family should go to Tennessee instead of Florida. Her insistence makes the family to deviate from the right path in an attempt to look for a fake treasure. The rebelliousness the family exhibits is a sign of moral decadence. The grandmother’s decision makes the family appear like it admires the Misfit. At the beginning of the story, the author illustrates clearly that the family was to suffer in the hands of Misfit. O’Connor effectively uses characterization in this story. He uses symbolism to show how the morals of a society have been destroyed (O’Connor 36).
In the story ‘‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, the author features the grandmother as a central character. Her character is evidently presented in the story as a very pushy persona who dearly loves herself to an extent of being myopic (O’Connor 36). Similarly, the author paints her as an authoritative and manipulative person. This is confirmed when she manages to push the family to reschedule its plan. Her mean character is noticeably shown when she wants to visit the house she used to live in when she was young. Following her conversation with her son Bailey, the old woman tries to pressure him to change his plan to her advantage. Her character is the same up till the end of the story (Getz 234).
O’Connor extensively uses characterization to bring out lack of respect and poor discipline in America’s society. The message in his story can be understood from differences that subsist between the old and young generations (O’Connor 36). The grandmother in the story symbolizes the old generation. The author describes how the old lady clothes herself such that even if a misfortune occurs, any person could easily recognize that she was a female because of her dressing. In the past, there were good morals. The children could respect the elder people and everybody in the society would reinforce such behavior all the time (Getz 234). However, the grandchildren are immoral and undisciplined. The author through his employing of characterization elements shows that Misfit is a product of crumbled values and culture devoid of demeanor. However, Misfit seems to be respectful in a way especially when he uses polite words like ‘Maam’.
Similarly, O’Connor uses symbolism in the story to show bereavement and faith. The author says that the family deviates from the good road to follow a dreadful one where they end up getting killed. This symbolizes how people move away from the kingdom of God to go to down the evil paths. The town’s name called “Toombsboro” is used by the author to symbolize death (O’Connor 36). The old woman hopes that she would find a plantation in Toombsboro town. It is in this town still that the old lady is sidetracked. This symbolizes that her faith in Jesus is getting low. In the story, the author writes that June and John tries to guess what the sky’s color is. The clouds in are used by the author to present the faith of the old lady (Getz 234). At the end of the story, we are told that there are no clouds anymore and the sky has nothing. The author is trying to show that the old woman’s faith at that stage is already depleted. The author uses a grave yard to symbolize death. Furthermore, in his quote “big black battered hearse like automobile” is applied to show that death is the final destination (O’Connor 36).
The author strongly backs up his theme by titling the story “A Good man is hard to find”. He uses personalities like Misfit to support it. This propping up is evidenced by the use the grandchildren and Jesus. In the story, the old woman says that she could go with her children anywhere and could give answer to her consciousness if possible. Finally, this lady comes into a situation where she tries to give answers to her conscience by frustratingly assuming that Misfit is not a bad person. Misfit on the other hand insists that indeed he is a bad person (O’Connor 36). Misfit compares himself to Jesus where he says that Jesus suffered for other people’s sins just the same way he got punished for mistakes he never did. The theme that “a good man is hard to find” undoubtedly refers to Jesus. This is because Misfit tries to compare himself to Jesus but he finally commits a murder. The old woman’s shaky faith in Jesus is over. By Jesus not delivering her shows that indeed “a good man is hard to find.”
The author ultimately does well to bring to the reader’s attention how the world is changing from being a good to a bad place (O’Connor 36). By use of characterization and symbolism he clearly shows the various vices in the society which are making the world a bad place. The author also uses the theme of the story “a good man is hard to find” to show that if people would accept Jesus in their lives then the world could be a good place just like in the past. This is because people would acquire good morals, be respectful and also practice discipline in everything they do.
Getz, Lorine, Nature and Grace in Flannery O'Connor's Fiction, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000.
O’Connor, Flannery, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, Chicago: Rutgers University Press. 2009.