Writing Critical Essays about Literature


The critical essay should have the same structural characteristics as any other kind of essay. Please see our Structure of an Essay explanation and picture to refresh your memory. However, the kind of information that a critical essay should include can be very different from the information included in other kinds of essays. The critical essay must have the following parts:


Every essay must have an introduction. This section should clearly identify the title, author, and kind of writing you are analyzing. It also needs to have a clearly stated thesis. The thesis could be about the work's strengths and weaknesses, or it could be about a specific aspect of the work ( a character, the tone, the use of symbols, etc.) The essays does not need to criticize the work, it can simply analyze one aspect of the work.

Summary (refreshing the reader's memory of the work) :

You cannot just assume that the reader knows exactly which part of the work, which argument, which symbols, etc. you are writing about. It is best to spend a bit of time reminding the reader about the main points of the original work. This section should explain the author's presentation of the subject that will be evaluated. This part of the paper should not be very long. Good papers leave this section brief and spend most of the time on analysis. If you are critiquing the author's argument, you need to include the author's conclusion, supporting ideas, implied ideas, and assumptions. However, if you are analyzing the author's method of writing, (i.e. his/her use of literary devices, imagery, development of a specific character, structural choices, etc.), you only need to mention the one aspect of his/her work you are discussing.

Remember, you should refrain from analysis in the summary section. This section is used only to refresh the reader's memory of a specific aspect of the piece. Depending on the essay, the summary could be a separate paragraph or two, or, you could include the summary information at the beginning of each body paragraph. If you include it at the beginning of each body paragraph, you should state the author's presentation briefly, then present your own analysis of it.


These are the main body paragraphs of the essay. This will be the longest part of the essay, because it is the part in which you prove your thesis.

Here, you evaluate and analyze the work. Depending on the thesis, you may be assessing the author's argument, use of figurative language, development of a specific character, repetition of a theme, etc. In this section, you should use examples from the work and analyze them in a way that supports your thesis. If you spend too much time on reconstruction and not enough on criticism, you will not score very well on the essay.


You should use the conclusion to summarize the main points of your analysis. Here you should restate the thesis briefly. You can opt to leave the reader with a broad statement to provoke further thought about the subject.

Outline for a Critical Essay

I. Introduction

A. Identify the title and author.

(this should be a sentence or two that summarizes your opinion/argument regarding the text).

II. Body

A. Summary

1. Refresh the reader's memory of the text as a whole.

2. Remind them of the specific part you will be analyzing

B. Criticism/Analysis

1. Evaluate and analyze the text

2. Use specific examples (quotes) from the text to support your thesis.

3. Analyze the quotes that you use in a way that proves your argument.

III. Conclusion

A. Summarize the main points of your argument.

B. Briefly restate your (now proven) thesis.

C. Perhaps leave the reader with a broad statement to provoke further thought.


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