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Sometimes, submitting pages and pages of well-researched and well-written matter as part of assignments and essays may not give students the higher grade they believe they deserve or even one that is in proportion to the effort put in. Such submissions are most likely missing a very important ingredient called “critical analysis.”

What Is Critical Analysis?

Critical analysis is often widely assumed to be required when reviewing literature or movies. It is actually not restricted to just that. It may sound intimidating but is in fact something that most people already do automatically on a regular basis, either consciously or subconsciously. 

For example, simply preferring to eat at a particular restaurant could be the result of critical analysis on a much smaller and less formal scale. Or for that matter even choosing a particular brand over the many others available is demonstrative of critical thinking and analysis. Another example of the everyday use of critical analysis in people’s lives is their opinion of and behavior toward others they encounter in their daily life, especially those they meet regularly.

Critical analysis is essentially an evaluation. It includes a careful analysis of the given topic and the opinion/judgment that results from it. “Critical” in this context does not automatically imply a negative evaluation. It instead means that the writer has not only read and understood what they have written about, but also recognized the positives and negatives, compared and reflected on them, and finally made an informed judgment as a result. 

Why Should Critical Analysis Be Done?

Here are a few reasons why students should consider critical analysis when writing essays.

1. It widens the scope of research: When an essay is written with the intention of engaging in critical analysis, new avenues of research open up for the writer to explore. The writer needs a good amount of information on various topics and subtopics to form an opinion or judgment that can carry weight. Critical analysis simplifies and organizes, even as it widens the research process.

For instance, take an assignment that asks for an account of the role played by the Bretton Woods institutions on the global economic scene today. Instead of just looking at the various initiatives and actions taken by these institutions, the student could also explore the different ideological stances regarding them and their work. This would help the student understand the topic better and form a more authoritative opinion of how effective these institutions have been in achieving their proclaimed goals of assisting development and reducing (or eradicating) poverty globally. 

2. It adds value to the essay: Even if the assignment does not ask for a critical analysis of the given topic, having a section where that is done greatly enhances the essay. It demonstrates how well the student has understood the work. Sometimes, it also allows them to bring in or refer to matter from across various disciplines that relate to the immediate topic without having to delve deeply into them.

For example, when writing about the socioeconomic conditions of a particular society today, knowing the history of that society enhances the essay even if all of it is not recounted there. 

3. It facilitates a stronger conclusion: The deeper understanding and insights that a student acquires as a result of critical analysis allows them to come up with a strong conclusion, instead of resorting to a summary that just repeats what has already been talked about in the body of the work.

4. It helps the student better understand the world around them: Critical analysis has value besides the better grades it earns for an assignment. It contributes to the student’s growth and understanding as an individual too. It allows them to better relate to the (usually abstract) concepts and entities they are learning about and also to recognize the impact these concepts and entities have on the student’s life, either directly or indirectly. This further allows the student to take part in the larger discourse around them.

For instance, popular critical analysis of the Vietnam War and its impact on both the Vietnamese population and the American tax-payer led to widespread protests, originating largely from college campuses, against the US government’s involvement in the conflict. The analysis contrasted the abstract ideological basis on which the War had been initiated and justified against its very real, material impact on people.

How Does One Critically Analyze?

Descriptive writing, tackling the whats and the hows, is an important part of essays and papers. It is the primary means of proving that the student has gained information about a particular topic.

However, education is not merely the collection of data. Rather, it requires the student to understand what they are reading in a way that contributes to their life and the decisions they make. Education also expects students to further the field of study they are engaged in.

This means engaging with the question of why. Why is the topic being written about significant? Viewing the matter from this angle is the beginning and the main aim of critical analysis.

For instance, a classical work of literature such as Fyodor Dostoyevesky’s novel “Crime and Punishment,” could easily be considered dated, having been published in the late 17th century and set in the St. Petersburg of that time. However, such a perspective is based on an understanding that is limited to the events of the story – what happened and how it happened.

A critical analysis explores the why, and this provides a valuable insight into the society and economy of the 17th century. It also reflects the frustration and desperation of those poor people around the world today who are part of a similar economic system. At the same time, the theme of guilt is such a universal one that all readers, even today, are able to recognize and relate to Raskolnikov’s sickness and delirium.

Analyzing something is not a very difficult task. As mentioned earlier, it is an almost automatic process that takes place with the reception of information.

The more challenging part is acquiring the right data, and that is done through research. It cannot be stressed enough how important research is to writing an essay. Research implies going beyond the simple collection of facts. The researcher should take into consideration the perspectives of well-established scholars, writers, and experts on the subject and conduct further research based on those. Reading works of such analysis ought to form a core part of the research as they not only impart information, but also help the student engage in analysis on their own.

Forming opinions, too, is something that comes naturally to people. What makes that opinion academically valid and viable is the ability to back it up with research.

The greater the diversity of opinions within a field of study, the more paths the field has to progress on. The diverse opinions facilitate thesis development and subsequent study. Essays, articles, and papers are the means through which they are expressed and popularized. Students can get a headstart by including critical analysis in college assignments in order to develop and hone this skill.

Though people engage in critical analysis on an everyday basis, it is the outcome of a few systematic steps. In formal research, these steps need to be conducted consciously and recounted to the reader to make clear how the conclusion was arrived at.

Stages toward Better Understanding and Engagement: Description, Analysis, and Critical Analysis

These three processes are not isolated from each other but are in fact interdependent. 

1. Description provides the basis. To begin to understand anything, it needs to be described well. Description addresses the questions of what is being talked about, where it came from, what it comprises, and so on and so forth.

While it is important, description usually lacks nuance. It is clear and to the point, and, more often than not, a simplification, as much as possible, of concepts, ideas, and developments that are often quite complex.

The following is an example of a description: “The climate of the earth is changing and, year after year, this becomes more evident in the form of increasingly extreme temperatures being experienced during the different seasons, especially by those in the temperate regions. Various government policies have been framed to deal with the issue.”

2. Analysis is a deeper dive into the subject where questions are asked about the different components described. These components are also broken down and studied in greater detail. The route analysis takes differs from person to person as different questions may strike different chords with different people.

An analysis of climate change would raise and address questions such as why climate is changing, what is involved in the process, how much of an impact climate change would have on people, how effective the government policies are and for whom, and so on.

3. Critical analysis results from an even deeper and more personal approach. Having comprehended the various theories and perspectives that exist regarding the topic, at this stage, the writer is able to better judge the situation and form an opinion on the matter. Since this opinion is the result of meticulous research, it can be presented in an objective manner.

When critically analyzing climate change, the writer would address questions such as why climate change is significant to people, who or what must shoulder greater blame, what steps can be taken to tackle the situation, what changes can be made to policies to make them more effective, and so on. 

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Critically analyzing information to write an essay
Critical analysis broadens the scope of research and makes it easier.