How to use critical analysis

Making your voice heard

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Although it's important to always support your arguments with evidence, this does not mean that there is no place for your opinions in your writing, and a discussion is your chance to make your voice heard. Your tutors are looking not only for how well you can use the literature, but also for fresh ideas and original thought. A really good assignment should make good use of the work of others, but the voice of the author can and should be heard too.

Importantly, it's also easier to get enthusiastic about work that reflects something of yourself - and it's much more enjoyable to read.

At university there are very few universal truths: anything and everything is up for discussion, and even a humble undergraduate can add their voice to the debate. Think about your own subject: what controversies are there? What are the big unanswered questions? Where are the debates taking place? At university, you're not expected to simply receive knowledge and deliver it back in exams - you're expected to have opinions and ideas of your own.

So, how do you 'put yourself in the picture' in a written assignment? When you use an academic writing style, it's easy to sound stuffy and impersonal; however, it's always possible (and desirable) to add something of yourself - to make your voice heard - in even the most formal assignment.

You can make your voice heard by using phrases like...

this is surprising because...

on balance, the weight of evidence leads us to conclude...

the case for X seems to be compelling

to illustrate this point we can consider this example

a recent example of this occurred when...

Can you think of any more generic phrases that you could use to emphasise your input? If so, make a note of them and keep them to hand as you write your discussion. By doing this you are making well-supported judgements and drawing conclusions that will be interesting to your readers. You're making the assignment your own, and that's worth its weight in gold - or at least a lot of extra marks.

Activity: making your voice heard

This activity introduces the important skill of critical writing; this is where you get to make judgements about what you read. Remember though, this is not an opportunity to give your opinions unsupported by evidence.

1. As you research, plan and write your assignment, keep in mind the following questions:

  • Have I been surprised by anything I discovered during my research? If so, what and why?
  • If my sources contradict each other, which do I agree with and and why?
  • Are any of my sources expressing controversial ideas? Why are these views controversial?
  • Can I link my assignment topic with anything else I'm studying?
  • Can I think of any examples I can use to illustrate my points?
  • Are my own experiences reflected in anything I have read?
  • How does my topic fit into the 'big picture', or relate to broader issues?

Recommended Further Reading

Critical analysis is one of the most important, and most difficult parts of the writing process, but it's what you get the majority of your marks for, so it's worth making an effort. Next we look at critical reading...

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