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7.1: What’s a Critique and Why Does it Matter?

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    Critiques evaluate and analyze a wide variety of things (texts, images, performances, etc.) based on reasons or criteria. Sometimes, people equate the notion of “critique” to “criticism,” which usually suggests a negative interpretation.  These terms are easy to confuse, but I want to be clear that critique and criticize don’t mean the same thing.  A negative critique might be said to be “criticism” in the way we often understand the term “to criticize,” but critiques can be positive too.

    We’re all familiar with one of the most basic forms of critique: reviews (film reviews, music reviews, art reviews, book reviews, etc.).  Critiques in the form of reviews tend to have a fairly simple and particular point:  whether or not something is “good” or “bad.”

    Academic critiques are similar to the reviews we see in popular sources in that critique writers are trying to make a particular point about whatever it is that they are critiquing.  But there are some differences between the sorts of critiques we read in academic sources versus the ones we read in popular sources.  

    • The subjects of academic critiques tend to be other academic writings and they frequently appear in scholarly journals.
    • Academic critiques frequently go further in making an argument beyond a simple assessment of the quality of a particular book, film, performance, or work of art.  Academic critique writers will often compare and discuss several works that are similar to each other to make some larger point.  In other words, instead of simply commenting on whether something was good or bad, academic critiques tend to explore issues and ideas in ways that are more complicated than merely “good” or “bad.”

    The main focus of this chapter is the value of writing critiques as a part of the research writing process.  Critiquing writing is important because in order to write a good critique you need to critically read: that is, you need to closely read and understand whatever it is you are critiquing, you need to apply appropriate criteria in order evaluate it, you need to summarize it, and to ultimately make some sort of point about the text you are critiquing.

    These skills-- critically and closely reading, summarizing, creating and applying criteria, and then making an evaluation-- are key to The Process of Research Writing, and they should help you as you work through the process of research writing.

    In this chapter, I’ve provided a “step-by-step” process for making a critique.  I would encourage you to quickly read or skim through this chapter first, and then go back and work through the steps and exercises describe.

    Selecting the right text to critique

    The first step in writing a critique is selecting a text to critique.  For the purposes of this writing exercise, you should check with your teacher for guidelines on what text to pick.  If you are doing an annotated bibliography as part of your research project (see chapter 6, “The Annotated Bibliography Exercise”), then you are might find more materials that will work well for this project as you continuously research.  

    Short and simple newspaper articles, while useful as part of the research process, can be difficult to critique since they don’t have the sort of detail that easily allows for a critical reading.  On the other hand, critiquing an entire book is probably a more ambitious task than you are likely to have time or energy for with this exercise. Instead, consider critiquing one of the more fully developed texts you’ve come across in your research: an in-depth examination from a news magazine, a chapter from a scholarly book, a report on a research study or experiment, or an analysis published in an academic journal.  These more complex essays usually present more opportunities for issues to critique.

    Depending on your teacher’s assignment, the “text” you critique might include something that isn’t in writing:  a movie, a music CD, a multimedia presentation, a computer game, a painting, etc.  As is the case with more traditional writings, you want to select a text that has enough substance to it so that it stands up to a critical reading.

    Exercise 7.1

    Pick out at least three different possibilities for texts that you could critique for this exercise.  If you’ve already started work on your research and an annotated bibliography for your research topic, you should consider those pieces of research as possibilities.  Working alone or in small groups, consider the potential of each text.  Here are some questions to think about:

    • Does the text provide in-depth information?  How long is it?  Does it include a “works cited” or bibliography section?
    • What is the source of the text?  Does it come from an academic, professional, or scholarly publication?
    • Does the text advocate a particular position?  What is it, and do you agree or disagree with the text?
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