What is Essay Critique? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Essay Critique?
  • 0:32 Step One: Essay Level
  • 2:38 Step Two: Paragraph Level
  • 3:56 Step Three: Sentence Level
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ben Nickol
This lesson explains what it means to critique an essay in an academic setting, and it also sets forth an example of how to critique essays thoroughly and thoughtfully.

What Is Essay Critique?

Over the course of an academic career, no matter what field you enter, you will be asked to engage in essay critique. This means you'll submit to others an essay you've written and receive feedback, but also, it means you'll be asked to scrutinize the essays of your peers and offer them advice for improvement. While it's easy enough just to tell a peer 'good job' and hand the paper back, an effective essay critique demands that you proceed through the paper methodically, testing the strength of each component. What follows are some guidelines for doing that.

Step One: Essay Level

One temptation when critiquing an essay is to isolate every sentence level error you find, including mechanical and grammatical errors, typos, et cetera, and make your critique the sum total of those errors. While proofreading like this can be helpful, and certainly is part of a good critique, it isn't the best place to start. Instead, start with the big picture, or the essay level of the critique. When you zoom out, an essay is a collection of paragraphs arranged in a specific order. Read through the essay, then ask yourself some questions about those paragraphs:

Is the order logical?

Good essays, no matter the field, share a certain core structure. They begin with an introductory paragraph, proceed to several body paragraphs that expand the argument set forth in the introduction, then finish with a concluding paragraph that ties all the main points together and affirms the overall argument. Are all these paragraphs included? Are they in the right order?

Are any of the paragraphs unnecessary?

Sometimes when writing an essay, a writer will include a paragraph or two that seem essential at the time, but that, when viewed in the context of the essay, are unnecessary to the point he's arguing. Perhaps he's elaborating on a point he's already made or else providing background information. If you find any of these paragraphs, usually found in the body of the essay, suggest that the writer delete them. As a side note, this is why a good essay critique starts with the big picture and works down. What if a writer spends hours fine-tuning a paragraph, only to discover he needs to delete the whole thing?

Are there any missing paragraphs?

Missing paragraphs can be hard to detect (they aren't there, after all), but a good critique always is sensitive to what essential information has been left out. Has the writer overlooked a step of his argument? Has the introduction promised a part of the discussion that doesn't appear in the body? (The other way a paragraph can go missing is if it's mashed in with another paragraph. Part of this phase of critique is suggesting to the writer ways he can break up his paragraphs to convey information in a clearer, more modular way.

Step Two: Paragraph Level

Like the essay itself, any single paragraph in a good academic essay has a certain core structure. Once you've critiqued your peer's work on the essay level, zoom in and examine each of the paragraphs. Ask yourself these questions:

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