A Novice’s Guide on Writing Critical Essays In 7 Steps

Have you ever written a critical essay in school before? Have you ever struggled with writing one because you don’t know how? Fear not, my lovelies! It’s because we will be talking about how to write a critical essay.

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No, this is not going to be a guide on bashing a movie or a book, but learning to evaluate the source material like an academic or a philosopher.

This will be the flow our guide:

Wow! Would you look at that?

We have a lot to tackle today. The purpose of which is to grant you a basic knowledge of what a critical essay is. Take my hand, and I’ll show you the way to new knowledge.

What Is a Critical Essay?

Critical essays allow you to use your critical thinking skills. It does not mean that you need to have a negative approach in your topic. In fact, it can be both positive and negative depending on how you “attack” the topic.

The purpose of critical essays is to make connections and to analyze, evaluate, interpret a source material. It is important to make a claim and support it using evidences.

Being a former student, we were asked by our professor to relate and analyze some scenes of the movie to our lesson. There are even times when we observe the dynamics between characters.

It’s the same case with textual analysis. We don’t critique the movie or the text. Instead, we study and evaluate it.

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Characteristics of a Critical Essay

Here are some points you should take note of when drafting your critical essay:

Central Claim

This is your thesis statement. Ideally, it should be written at the last sentence of your first paragraph (introduction). One to two sentences would be fine.

The thesis statement contains your main argument which would be tackled more in the succeeding body paragraphs.

As stated in a guide by the Nova Southeastern University (NSU), it is best to ask yourself with the following questions:


You can never go wrong with evidence. It’s simple, you need evidences from your source material (or sometimes secondary sources) to support your arguments.

Evidences can be in a form of quotes, paraphrased texts, or scenes (in the case of a movie).

Third person point of view

You have to use “it”, “he”, “she”, “they” or you can use the character’s name. Like any other type of essay, a critical essay should have an introduction, body, and conclusion.

How Many Paragraphs Should be In a Critical Essay?

To be really honest with you, it all depends on your professor. It can be a one page critical essay with three paragraphs, or a two page paper with five paragraphs.

There are even instances when professors don’t give page or word limits. What he or she is looking for is quality, not quantity. A longer paper does not guarantee that he/she would be impressed.

In case you are intimidated with critical essays, all you have to do is to ask your instructor with regard to guidelines and formatting. Remember that your teacher would be happier if you wrote a quality paper regardless of the amount of paragraphs it contains.

Critical Essay Outline

Below is a sample outline template you can use for your critical essay. You can change any element you want in the sample outline.



a. Argument #1

1.a. Evidence

2.a. Analysis and evaluation

b. Argument #2

1.b. Evidence

2.b Analysis and evaluation

c. Argument #3

1.c. Evidence

2.c. Analysis and evaluation


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How to Write a Critical Essay?


I’m thinking that you took down notes. Your notes will be useful at this stage.

So what’s the point? All you have to do at this stage is to organize your thoughts. Read your teacher’s guide questions and start off from there.

You can make a mind map or a cluster to help you sort out your thoughts as suggested by the Nova Southeastern University (NSU). For now, just rely on the things you know.

Don’t analyze yet! You can do that later. The purpose of brainstorming is to list your ideas and the things you currently know about the subject matter.

After brainstorming, you can organize them by groups to see which concepts you need to research about.

Another organization method you can use is outlining.


Go to the internet to search for sources for your critical essay. Please make sure that your sources are scholarly and updated.

You can even find a synopsis of the book or movie if that helps you.

Introduction structure

A hook would be helpful to catch your reader’s attention. It can be a mind-blowing fact about the movie/book or a question. It is not recommended to begin the first sentence of your introduction with the summary.

Then, you can proceed to write a short background information about the movie or book. The purpose of which is to contextualize your critical essay. Don’t make it like a synopsis where almost every major detail is included.

If ever you are going to use terms in your essay, I suggest that you define them in the introduction.

Critical essay thesis

Write your thesis statement if you’ve already thought of one. If not, then it’s okay.

I usually leave the thesis statement last because I can usually write a better central claim by synthesizing all the information from the body paragraphs and conclusion.

This is a sample critical essay thesis statement from the NSU:

“The Civil Rights Movement had a tremendous impact on into categories: the American society, as evident in the changes that occurred within the legal, moral, and cultural systems.”

Write the body!

It’s time to dedicate one paragraph per argument. Don’t cram all the information in one paragraph! It renders your critical essay unreadable.

It is essential to present your ideas as logically as possible. Use transition words such as “Moreover”, “However”, “On the other hand”, “Alternatively”, “In addition”, “In conclusion”, and many more.

Support your arguments with evidences from the book or the movie. It can be a quote or a scene. You are also free to use other sources to back up your claims. Don’t forget to add a parenthetical citation of your sources!

Yes, this includes the movie or the book. Don’t just summarize or place the evidence on your paper. You have to evaluate it. Don’t be afraid to voice out your analysis.

Write the conclusion!

Reassert your thesis statement. No, your thesis statement here should not be a direct copy. At this point, it should be structured or worded differently.

Summarize the main points of your critical essay. Don’t add any new information other than your (additional) insights. You can even recommend the reader to further research on your topic.

Revise and edit!

Read through your draft to see if every argument is presented logically. Check if the way you structured your thoughts are organized throughout your paper.

At this point, you might need to make substantive changes to your paper like reworking on the structure or rewriting your arguments.

Be sure that your critical essay is free of grammatical errors. Don’t forget to add a references or works cited page.

Critical Essay Example

Human Freedom and Free Will in “Bruce Almighty”

As what people often say, “Freedom is not absolute.” Freedom is defined as the power to perform actions grounded on reason and will. It also means that one is a rational being who is responsible for his or her actions (“Freedom”, 2016). Bruce Almighty centers around Bruce, a reporter from Buffalo, New York. He meets God during one fateful day, and is granted by powers to prove that Bruce can do a better job. Unfortunately, he abuses his power and causes problems in the city (Shadyac, 2003). Bruce exercises his freedom to use his abilities differently as he slowly turns over a new leaf in the movie.

Bruce exploits his human freedom to cause mischief and problems in the city. With his abilities, he became the new anchor of the studio by using his them to humiliate Evan, his rival. Another instance is when Bruce moved the full moon closer to his apartment so that his girlfriend, Grace can experience a romantic night. This particular action caused a tidal wave in Japan (Shadyac, 2003).

In the beginning and middle of the movie, it is shown that Bruce is an irrational actor because he could not bear to restrain his actions. In fact, he abuses his free will by causing problems for other people. From the examples, he does not show that he is irresponsible because he only cares about achieving what he wants to achieve without any regard to consequences or repercussions.

Bruce faces a significant character development by the end of the movie, which signifies his new approach on freedom. He realizes that he needs to be responsible and to use his abilities for the greater good. One notable scene in the movie is when Bruce allowed Evan to return to his old job. He is now a rational being because he exercises his human freedom to perform good deeds. Therefore, Bruce desires to transform his life for the better in contrast to the beginning of the movie.

Bruce used to be an irrational actor by abusing the powers bestowed to him by God. Bruce’s realizations made him a more rational actor, grounding himself on good values and actions. These prove that Bruce has changed how he exercises his freedom. Although Bruce Almighty is a comedy movie, Bruce’s story is an interesting take on how human beings can potentially abuse their freedom to wreak havoc to others. Freedom is not absolute, and it certainly does not entitle people to act rashly.


Christian View of Freedom [PowerPoint slides]. (2016).

Shadyac, T. (Director). (2003). Bruce Almighty [Motion picture]. United States: Spyglass Entertainment.

Critical Essay Topics

Here are some critical topics to inspire you for your next paper:

Literature and Movies

Philosophy and Thinking


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Congratulations! You have reached the end of my guide. I hope you learned something about my tutorial on writing critical essays.

Now is the time to hone your thinking skills, and watch yourself become the next philosopher in your class!

I wish you good luck, and enjoy writing your critical essay!

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