Essay Critique: Examples & Overview

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Anderson
Critiquing an essay requires you to pick it apart like a chicken carcass, leaving no bone untouched. In this lesson, you'll learn how to identify the major components of a well-crafted essay.

Essay Critique Breakdown: The Thesis Statement

Let's start with the beginning. Many people think that an essay's thesis (a statement that directly explains the writer's main idea) is always located in the opening paragraph. And usually, that's the case. However, many professional writers will state their thesis elsewhere. When you're reading a high-level text, you'll often encounter essays that place the thesis anywhere but in the introduction. Don't let this stump you. Read with an open mind, knowing that the thesis will appear.

Take, for example, Jessica Cohen's The Atlantic essay 'Grade A: The Market for a Yale Woman's Eggs.' In summary, her essay explains how she started seriously thinking about selling her eggs to couples who were incapable of reproduction. Cohen goes into detail about how invasive and complicated the procedure actually is. She also details her experience with trying to win over a very picky couple. In the end, the couple rejected Cohen as a candidate, but at that point, Cohen had already decided not to further pursue the business of selling her eggs. Cohen's central thesis arrives in the middle of the essay when she writes:

'I realized that this process was something I didn't want to be a part of. I understand the desire for a child who will resemble and fit in with the family. But once a couple starts choosing a few characteristics, shooting for perfection is too easy--especially if they can afford it. The money might have changed my life for a while, but it would have led to the creation of a child encumbered with too many expectations.'

Essentially, Cohen's introduction to the essay led to this moment where she states very clearly her main idea, or thesis.

Essay Critique Breakdown: Textual Support/Body Paragraphs

Another important feature to identify and critique in an essay is the author's use of textual support. Textual support includes all the details that support a writer's thesis. In the case of Cohen's essay, her support includes personal details, mixed with scientific research and data.

In her essay, each body paragraph supports her thesis. Take, for example, this supporting paragraph:

'The standard compensation for donating an egg to Egg Donation is $3,500 to $5,000, and additional funds are offered to donors who have advanced degrees or are of Asian, African-American, or Jewish descent. Couples searching for an egg at Egg Donation can be picky, but not as picky as couples advertising in the Yale Daily News. Should couples be able to pay a premium on an open market for their idea of the perfect egg? Modern success is measured largely in financial terms, so why shouldn't the most successful couples, eager to pay more, have access to the most expensive eggs?'

This textual support reinforces the dilemma Cohen is raising throughout her essay: How much is too much to pay for the so-called perfect egg? Here, Cohen uses the rhetorical device of raising questions, a feature in most serious essays (a rhetorical device is used when the author is asking you to consider a situation from his or her point of view). In this case, Cohen's rhetorical device is raising questions for the reader to explore. This can only be successful if the author sincerely attempts to answer, or at least explore, the questions raised. When a writer uses a series of rhetorical questions, but then fails to directly address them, the rhetoric is wasted. Skillful writers, like Cohen, know how to raise the right questions, leading the reader to her point of view.

Cohen's support also includes hard data that speaks to the messy complications associated with egg donation:

'Nearly ten years ago, at the University of California at Irvine's Center for Reproductive Health, doctors took the leftover frozen embryos from previous clients and gave them without consent to other couples and to research centers. Discovery of the scam resulted in more than thirty prosecutions: a group of children had biological parents who hadn't consented to their existence and active parents who had been given stolen goods. Who can say whether throwing the embryos away would have been any better?'

This information is shocking, isn't it? It forces us to consider the morality of the situation. Is it better that these children are born? Is it fair to the parents who will never know they even exist? It's hard to deny support of this magnitude, which is why Cohen uses it in her essay to help illustrate the moral complexity of the situation.

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