Writing the Critical or Rhetorical Analysis
When we hear the term “critical” or “criticism,” we often think of negative or unfavorable judgments or comments. This idea, however, makes up only one part of the meaning of criticism. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, criticism, where it concerns commenting in writing on what we read or hear or see, is “the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature” (275). Criticism of a work can result in praise just as easily as in condemnation. What matters is that a criticism should demonstrate a thoughtful evaluation of a work (in composition class, usually a piece of non-fiction). This type of assignment is also called a rhetorical analysis, which means an analysis of “writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion” (1004). Writing a critical or rhetorical analysis is a common and practical use of critical thinking skills.
In writing a rhetorical or critical analysis, you are typically asked to evaluate an essay from a collection in an anthology or a piece of writing from today’s media, such as an editorial or letter to the editor. Even though you may have some opinion about the topic and the writer’s position, in a critical analysis your main purpose is not just to agree or disagree. Instead, you need to focus on how the writer expresses his or her opinion, and on whether the writer succeeds in making a point. In other words, you will be writing about a piece of writing, not about a particular topic (e.g., If you analyze an essay about crime, your paper will not be primarily about crime, but about the essay you have read.). Within this general area, you may focus on analyzing a variety of things.
You might analyze the writer’s tone of voice, the “sound of the writing” that tells you whether someone’s approach is serious or silly, technical or casual. Does the writer seem to be angry? What cues in the writing suggest anger? Is an angry tone an effective one in this case? Does...