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We have a tendency to think of critical analysis as being nitpicky and overly negative. While it can be that way, it doesn’t have to be. Rather, critical analysis is simply reviewing a source to see how well it did or did not present its argument.


Step One: Identify Thesis and Main Arguments :

The first step in critical analysis is to read and explore the source until you feel comfortable with its argument and ideas. You need to be able to understand the source’s argument as a whole first. You can’t properly critique a source that you don’t understand. You can say that you didn’t understand it, but that’s not the same as a critique. You need to be able to summarize the original source as part of the critique, usually at the beginning. This shows that you understood what the author/creator was trying to do, even if you end up evaluating the source negatively.

To do this step most effectively, you should be able to identify the main thesis of the source, as well as the primary arguments used to support the thesis. It’s okay to paraphrase these points, but you should be able to identify which sections of the source support the paraphrases.

Step Two: Determine the Essential Elements:

Once you are comfortable with the arguments/ideas, you need to begin assessing them individually. What you are really looking for in this section are the arguments and elements in the source that affected your response in either positive or negative ways. What parts worked the best? What parts caused confusion or just seemed wrong/weak? Investigate each of these elements in some detail. Feel free to compare the information/arguments of this source with other sources that you have read.

Step Three: Evaluate the Essential Elements:

It’s not enough to just say that something exists or that it’s good or bad in a source – you need to explain how and why it’s strong or weak. You also want to make sure that you identify an example of what you are discussing. If you want to discuss an author’s writing style or a particular statistic, you need to be able to identify specific examples, not just make a passing reference to them.

The Kosmicki Test: If the source lists a bunch of statistics with no explanation or support, it is questionable data. But even if the source gives a source for statistics, they can still be questionable. Apply the Kosmicki Test. If an author claims that 10% of the population feels a certain way, or that 1 in 40 people has a certain disease, ask this question: does this claim reflect the world that I live in? If you know 100 people, do 2 or more have the disease that 1 in 40 people supposedly have? Do 10% of your friends and family hold the belief that 10% of the population supposedly holds? If not, then you need to ask how and why your reality is different from that presented by the source and both question and test the source’s claims.

Always be on the lookout for sources that argue absolute positions or have an obvious bias. Their information isn’t necessarily wrong or unusable, but you do need to take the bias or refusal to admit other positions into account in your own evaluation of their arguments.

Step Four: Determine your Critical Assessment:

Once you’ve evaluated the source’s claims (especially how they compare to other sources’ data and claims), then you can decide how credible this source and its claims really are. Remember, it’s not about whether you LIKE the source, or whether it’s EASY to read, it’s about how CREDIBLE the source is for an Academic Paper.

Some questions to ask when doing a Critical Analysis:

  1. Who is the author?

  2. What are their credentials (what makes them a believable or appropriate source)?

  3. Do they explain their data/statistics, or just list them?

  4. Do they argue an absolute Black/White, right/wrong position?

  5. Who is the sponsoring organization/publisher?

  6. Do they (or the author) have a bias about the subject?

  7. How old is the information (or the article/source itself)?

  8. Is the source focused more on the information or the format/design of the page?

  9. How well does this information fit your other sources on the same subject?

  10. How well does it fit the Kosmicki Test?

These are not the only questions to ask, but if you ask at least these questions, you should be able to fairly evaluate the source’s arguments and ideas.