We give our opinions on a frequent basis, and if you think about it, you might discover your opinion is based on a criterion, whether that criterion is your personal taste, a theoretical model, what you know about right and wrong, or even a fact or two. In college you will be asked to provide your opinion in a more formal way. We call these tasks, and sometimes full assignments, critiques.
Writing critiques improves your critical and analytical thinking and hones your evaluative skills. While a summary is meant to represent the original source faithfully, a critique is meant to be a critical assessment of the reading material.
You may be asked to write critiques in any course; for example, you may have to critique someone else’s ideas, an excerpt, a book, a poem, a work of art, or even the solution to a mathematical equation.
You may have already noticed that a critique is a form of evaluation. When critiquing, you assign value to a book, article, paper, or something else based on a criterion. In a general sense, “critique” and “evaluate” are interchangeable strategies. However, we tend to use the word “critique” when evaluating something for which the criteria we should use, and why we should use it, is less than obvious.
For example, imagine two assignments.
1. You are taking a marketing class, and your professor has asked you to evaluate a product rollout based on a marketing agency’s original plan for the rollout.
2. You are taking an English class, and your professor has asked you write a critical analysis of three novels you have read in class.
Both assignments are evaluative, but one is merely an evaluation, and the other is a critique.
The first assignment has a ready-made criterion (the original plan), and your readers will most likely be familiar with it. You will only need to provide a brief statement that your criterion is the original plan for the rollout. Then, provide a short summary of the original plan.
The second assignment will be more complex. You will need to provide the criterion, summarize and explain it, and justify it. You will not be able to assume your readers are familiar with the criterion. You should devote additional space to an extended summary and explanation of the criterion so that your readers can understand it. Then, you should employ persuasion to justify the application of your criterion to the novels.
In a critique, you should introduce your audience to your criterion and justify it.