Common feedback from lecturers is that students' writing is too descriptive, not showing enough criticality: "too descriptive", "not supported by enough evidence", "unbalanced", "not enough critical analysis". This guide provides the foundations of critical writing along with some useful techniques to assist you in strengthening this skill.
Key features in critical writing include:
In order to be considered critical, academic writing must go beyond being merely descriptive. Whilst you may have some descriptive writing in your assignments to clarify terms or provide background information, it is important for the majority of your assignment to provide analysis and evaluation.
Define clearly what you are talking about, introduce a topic.
Analysis literally means to break down an issue into small components to better understand the structure of the problem. However, there is much more to analysis: you may at times need to examine and explain how parts fit into a whole; give reasons; compare and contrast different elements; show your understanding of relationships. Analysis is to much extent context and subject specific.
Here are some possible analytical questions:
Analysis is different within different disciplines:
Tip: Try to include a bit of description, analysis and evaluation in every paragraph. Writing strong paragraphs can help, as it reminds you to conclude each paragraph drawing a conclusion. However, you may also intersperse the analysis with evaluation, within the development of the paragraph.
What is an argument?
Essentially, the aim of an essay (and other forms of academic writing, including dissertations) is to present and defend, with reasons and evidence, an argument relating to a given topic. In the academic context argument means something specific. It is the main claim/view/position/conclusion on a matter, which can be the answer to the essay (or research) question. The development of an argument is closely related to criticality, as in your academic writing you are not supposed to merely describe things; you also need to analyse and draw conclusions.
Tips on devising an argument
Argument or arguments?
Both! Ideally, in your essay you will have an overarching argument (claim) and several mini-arguments, which make points and take positions on the issues you discuss within the paragraphs.
Learning Development, University of Plymouth (2010). Critical Thinking. University of Plymouth. Available from https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/1/1710/Critical_Thinking.pdf [Accessed 16 January 2020].
Student Learning Development, University of Leicester (no date). Questions to ask about your level of critical writing. University of Leicester. Available from https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/questions-to-ask/questions-to-ask-about-your-level-of-critical-writing [Accessed 16 January 2020].