Unlike the introduction to most of the essays you write in school, where the main purpose is simply to introduce the thesis, the introduction of a critique or evaluation essay is more complex.
First, you must introduce the author and the title of the work being critiqued. This information is often in the first sentence of a critique’s introduction, but so long as the info is at or near the top you are fine.
Second, state the author’s main point (whether in the entire work or the section of the work you are critiquing). The main point is sometimes called the “take away”—what the author wants the reader to remember or do after reading.
Third, state in 1-2 sentences your overall evaluation of the work you are critiquing. If “overall evaluation” sounds like your conclusion, bingo, you are correct. So, it may be wise to leave this portion of your intro unwritten until you have finished your first draft.
Fourth, be sure to add any background information the reader needs to place the author’s work in context. What overall topic is the work related to? Is there a controversy involved? Be sure to set the stage since your reader has not read the work.
After the introduction comes part two: the summary of the work or that part of the work under consideration. When writing this summary, you are an objective reporter providing an unbiased statement of two things:
- the author’s overall point or take-away
- the main supports offered for that point
And like a good reporter, your language should be untainted by your own views and certainly be written in the third person—no I’s or you’s. Your goal: After someone reads a good summary (also called an abstract), that reader should know the author’s thesis and main points without detecting any of your opinion.
Part three is the evaluation. This is where you transition from being a reporter to being a judge. Just like a judge at a gymnastics meet, you weigh the strong points and the weak points of the performance, then provide an overall rating. Also, just like at a gymnastics meet, you have a scorecard of criteria that you use to make this judgment, this rating. However, instead of mount and dismount, flexibility and strength, your criteria are more likely to be items like this:
- Accuracy of information
- Presence or lack of definition of key terms
- Hidden assumptions
- Clarity of language
- Fairness—the author weighed both sides without undue bias
- Logic and Organization—do the main points link together in a meaningful way and add up to a valid argument? Are there gaps in the argument?
- Fallacies—these refer to such argument no-no’s as name calling, hasty generalization, oversimplification, substituting emotional language for fact or logic, or the black/white or either/or fallacy, the bandwagon appeal (everybody is doing it, so it must be OK), and so on.
Part four is the response. Now it’s your turn. You are no longer a reporter or a judge. You are you, providing your personal take on this work. How do you do that? Simple: Ask yourself questions like these:
- What do I agree and disagree with?
- What does the author get right, what does she/he get wrong, in my opinion?
- What ultimate merit does this work have—some, a little, none?
- Would I recommend this work as a source on this topic or should it be avoided—why or why not?
The response section is also where you would use outside sources to back up your opinion of this work and its merits or demerits. In that sense, your response section is like a miniature essay, where your thesis is your opinion of the work and your main points support your opinion.
Part five is the wrap up. It doesn’t have to be long. Your main tasks are to:
- Remind your audience of the overall importance of the topic—bring the reader back to ground zero, the topic at hand.
- Bring together your assessment or rating of the work, together with your personal response to it. In doing so, focus on overall strengths and weaknesses. Then use both to state what you believe is the ultimate success of the work .
So there you are—the mysteries of the “critique” demystified. You simply
- Introduce the work
- Summarize the work
- Rate the work based on a set of clear criteria
- Respond to the work in a personal way
- Wrap it up by talking about overall success failure of the work and the importance of the topic it tries to address.
Do those things—in that order—and you will end up with a critique that is sound and meaningful.