Critical Analysis

Learning Objectives

  • Identify different types of analytic processes
  • Apply different types of analytic processes

Critical analysis is probably what you think of first when you hear the word analysis. You probably wrote analyses of poems or stories in high school, or you may have even analyzed films or advertisements. Analysis of a specific artifact is called critical analysis or critique.

For this section, we’ll use analysis of ads for our examples. However, you can apply critical analysis to any artifact.

Take a look at the old cigarette ad, below. How would you start to analyze it?

Lucky Strike cigarette ad featuring a picture of a doctor holding a pack of cigarettes. It reads, "20,679 physicians say 'Luckies are less irritating.'"

There are three possible structures you might use for a critical analysis paper.

Description followed by analysis Thematic Part by Part
Introduction with thesis addressing composer’s choices and motivations (how and why)

Description of artifact

Analysis of artifact

Conclusion examining larger significance (so what)

Introduction with summary description and thesis (how and why)

Identify a theme or pattern

Provide examples

(Continue this as needed)

Conclude with larger significance (so what)

Introduction with summary description and thesis (how and why)

Analyze first section of artifact

Analyze next section of artifact

(Continue this as needed)

Conclude with larger significance (so what)

Analytic paragraphs generally follow the claim, evidence, explanation model. A writer establishes a claim, then supports that claim with evidence, and then explains how the evidence supports the claim. In a critical analysis, the details of the artifact serve as the evidence supporting the claim.

In the example below, explore the hotspots to learn about how the writer of this analysis of the Lucky Strike ad uses a claim, evidence, and support of evidence in a paragraph.

explore the hotspots

So what does a typical critical analysis assignment look like? Consider the example, below:

Example assignment

For this essay, you will identify and work with an advertisement. The ad you choose may be print or online, but it must be static (i.e., no television or radio commercials). Your purpose is to analyze how and why the ad goes about reaching an audience and to construct and support an original thesis that guides your essay. You should be moving your thinking beyond the obvious, not necessarily to conclusions no one else has ever considered, but at least to conclusions that many people do not consider upon first glance of the ad. Your final product should include brief summary of the ad you have chosen, analysis of how the ad works to appeal to an audience, and then any conclusions you reach about the advertising strategies, including context.

Answer the following questions to help you develop a plan for responding to this critical analysis assignment.