- When we respond to a text, we explain how we feel about about a text and how we connect to it
- When we analyze a text, we consider how it has been put together—we dissect it, more or less, to see how it works
Here’s a new term: when we critique (crih-TEEK) a text, we evaluate it, asking it questions. Critique shares a root with the word “criticize.” Most of us tend to think of criticism as being negative or mean, but in the academic sense, doing a critique is not the least bit negative. Rather, it’s a constructive way to better explore and understand the material we’re working with. When we critique a text, we interrogate it. We question the text, we argue with it, and we delve into it for deeper meanings.
The word’s origin means “to evaluate,” and through our critique, we do a deep evaluation of a text (that is, we make a judgment a text). Here are some ideas to consider when critiquing a text:
- Do my assignment instructions specify the ways I should evaluate this text?
- How would different readers respond to a text? Who would agree with it? Who would not?
- Did you find any errors in reasoning? Any gaps in the discussion?
- Did the organization make sense?
- Was evidence used correctly, without manipulation? Has the writer used appropriate sources for support?
- Is the author objective? Biased? Reasonable? (Note that the author might just as easily be subjective, unbiased, and unreasonable! Every type of writing and tone can be used for a specific purpose. By identifying these techniques and considering why the author is using them, you begin to understand more about the text.)
- Has the author left anything out? If yes, was this accidental? Intentional?
- Are the text’s tone and language text appropriate?
- Are all of the author’s statements clear? Is anything confusing?
- What worked well in the text? What was lacking or failed completely?
- What is the cultural context* of the text? [*Cultural context is a fancy way of asking who is affected by the ideas and who stands to lose or gain if the ideas take place. When you think about this, think of all kinds of social and cultural variables, including age, gender, occupation, education, race, ethnicity, religion, economic status, and so forth.]
If you noticed that many of these questions resemble the kinds of questions you ask when you analyze a text, you are correct. There is not a clear line separating a response from an analysis and an analysis from a critique. It it helpful to consider these as fluid, overlapping categories that, taken together, form the habits of mind of that will lead to you being a better reader and a better writer.
When you're writing, you cannot just jump right into a critique. Instead, you have to present the ideas from the text first. In general, there are three ways to present the ideas from a text:
- Summarize -- restate in your own words the general points of a text
- Paraphrase -- restate in your own words a specific ideas from a text
- Quote -- present the exact words from a text
You should pay attention to clues in your assignment instructions that will tell you which of these three ways of using texts you will need to successfully complete your assignments. Sometimes instructions will directly tell you "Quote from the story and analyze how they demonstrate the growth of the main character." Other times, you'll have instructions like "Explain the concept of socialization from Chapter 5 of the textbook and use it to analyze your first two weeks in college". In this case, you could start by summarizing the general concept of socialization, and then paraphrase the specific parts of the chapter that relate directly to what you want to write about your experience.
Ultimately, successful writing in college will meaning being able to do all three of these things and to recognize how they all work together to help you get to a place where you are not just restating the ideas of a text but instead synthesizing different texts with your own ideas to present your own arguments.