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Academic Writing: Critical Writing

Critical Writing 

Welcome to this guide on Critical Writing. Being able to communicate your critical thinking in your assignments important to succeeding in your assignments. 

This guide will help you understand:

  • What is Critical Writing?
  • How can I write critically?
  • Using language to demonstrate your critical thinking
  • Further reading and support.

 

What is Critical Writing?

Academic essays consist of two writing styles: descriptive writing and critical writing. To understand critical writing fully, let's examine what descriptive writing is. 

Descriptive writing
  • Describes (gives an account of/gives details on) what something is: a topic, problem, situation, or context of the subject under discussion.
  • May describe where this takes place, who is involved when it occurs. 
  • Provides background information to you discussion of the essay question. Background description usually comes before critical analysis so that the reader can understand the topic you are critically engaging with.

A good way to remember descriptive writing is that provides information on: what, who, where, when. Descriptive writing demonstrates to your marker the knowledge you have of a subject (of what something is) and your knowledge of what other people say about that subject. 

Critical writing

Critical writing requires you to apply analysis and evaluation to the descriptions you have provided. Writers who can produce persuasive critical writing use evidence to support their ideas. Critical writing allows you to:

  • Apply an idea or theory to a different situations. Does the idea work/not work in practice? Is there a factor that makes this work/not work? (relating theory to practice). For example: 'Smith's (2008) theory on teamwork is effective in the workplace because it allows a diverse group of people with different skills to work effectively'.
  • Justify why a process or policy exists. For example: 'It was necessary for the nurse to check the patient's handover notes because...'
  • Suggest an alternative approach to view and act on situations. For example: 'By adopting a Freirian approach, we could view the student as a collaborator in our teaching and learning'. Or: 'if we had followed the NMC guidelines we could have made the patient feel calm and relaxed during the consultation'.
  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of an idea/theory/policy. Why does this idea/theory/policy work? Or, why does this idea not work? For example: 'Although Smith's (2008) theory on teamwork is useful for large teams, there are challenges in applying this theory to teams who work remotely'. 
  • How the idea links to other ideas in the field (synthesis). For example: 'the user experience of parks can be greatly enhanced by examining Donnelly's (2009) customer service model used in retail.
  • How the idea compares and contrasts with other ideas/theories (comparison/classification of the type of theory). For example: The approach advocated by the NMC differs in comparison because of factor A and factor C.
  • The “up-to-dateness” and relevance of an idea/theory/policy (currency). For example: 'although this approach was successful in supporting the local community, Smith's model does not accommodate the needs of a modern global economy'. 
  • Evaluates an idea/theory/policy by providing an evidence-informed judgment. For example: 'Therefore, May's delivery model should be discontinued as it has created significant issues for both customers and staff (Ransom, 2018)'.
  • Creates new perspectives or arguments based on knowledge. For example: 'to create strong and efficient buildings, we will look to the designs provided by nature. The designs of the Sydney Opera house are based on the segments of an orange (Cook, 2019)'. 

To conclude, critical writing takes positive and negative approaches to ideas and interrogates them. Once you have interrogated an idea or theory, you can then provide an evidenced judgment. 

 

How can I write critically?

It is important to remember that having lots of critical analysis will not matter if your ideas are not clearly structured. 

To maintain structure in your critically writing, it is important to use paragraphs correctly. Using a good paragraph structure will enable the reader to clearly see descriptive writing followed by critical writing. 

Example paragraph

Take a look at this paragraph:

According to research by the Food Standards Agency (2015), there may be a link between late nights and childhood obesity in children. However, this research focuses only on the area of sleep and does not consider many of the other factors associated with late nights, such as what children eating when they stay up late. Compared to other known factors influencing childhood obesity, there is insufficient evidence about the effect of late nights for this to be taken very seriously by policymakers, though this may change with further research.

This paragraph consists of three sentences. What role do you think each sentence is playing?

  • Descriptive statement (who, when, what): 

‚ÄčAccording to research by the Food Standards Agency published in 2015, there may be a link between late nights and childhood obesity in children. 

  • Critical statement: 

However, this research focuses only on the area of sleep and does not consider many of the other factors associated with late nights, such as what children eating when they stay up late.

  • Judgment:

Compared to other known factors influencing childhood obesity, there is insufficient evidence about the effect of late nights for this to be taken very seriously by policymakers, though this may change with further research.

Following paragraph structure

It is good academic practice to follow a three-sentence structure where you can provide description, analysis and evaluation.

See below for a breakdown:  

Descriptive statement + Critical statement + Judgment statement

According to…                 However…            Overall…

Smith argues that…         Alternatively…           Therefore…

This structure is helpful as it:

  • emphasises that you are including both description and critical analysis and shows visually where the sections begin and end.
  • allows you to check the balance between description and critical writing and make sure that you have enough critical content.

Using language to demonstrate your critical thinking

When writing your critical and evaluation statement, think carefully about the point you are trying to make, and use the corresponding language to highlight this to the reader. 

  • Are you comparing / contrasting two theories? (Similarly / On the other hand…)
  • Are you offering an alternative point of view? (An alternative argument…)
  • Are you highlighting a weakness in a theory? (One major drawback of this approach…)

To view further guidance on critical writing phrases, we recommend visiting the University of Manchester's Academic Phrasebank. 

 

Further reading and support

At the University of Suffolk, there are books based at the Ipswich library that can help you to write critically.

In addition, out Academic Skills Advisors can support you in your critical writing through one-to-one appointments or through our workshops. 

If you would like to speak to an Academic Skills Advisor about your critical writing, please visit our appointments page here: https://libguides.uos.ac.uk/121

We hope you found this page useful - if you have any comments or questions, please email us. 

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  • up to 1 hour with an Academic Skills Advisor

Appointments are scheduled in 30 minute slots.  

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