Excellent writing, both creative and critical, takes skill, practice and study.
Analytical thinking and writing helps us identify problems, define relationships, locate most relevant details and build effective structures to help us solve problems and better understand a topic.
Critical writing is more than descriptive writing and goes further by telling us what's happening in addition to critiquing what's happening using evidence and reason.
Check out the University of Leeds' guide to evaluating descriptive versus critical writing: https://library.leeds.ac.uk/info/1401/academic_skills/105/critical_thinking/5
Critical writing requires analysis. Southeastern Louisiana University shared a guideline for critical reading and critical writing (+ an outline for writing a critical essay): https://www2.southeastern.edu/Academics/Faculty/elejeune/critique.htm
Barbara Hoogenboom and Robert Manske (2012) shared in The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 5 criteria that professional reviewers look for in scientific publications (this changes depending on literary genre): Importance/Relevance; Logic/Writing Style; Study Design; Focus and Sample Size (2012).
Some obstacles that prevent excellence in critical writing (Hoogenboom & Manske, 2012):
- Irregular or nonexistent writing habits
- Writing anxiety
- Lack of education about writing guidelines and grammar
- Insecurity and fear of failure
- Environmental distractions
- Resistance to feedback
Reasons for scientific literary rejection includes: incomplete statistics, over-interpretation of results, inappropriate or insufficient population and tools, small/biased samples and poor/improper writing.
While you may not be interested in publishing your work in a science journal, there are still benefits in writing critical essays at home. Thinking critically helps you assess and solve problems. It helps you reason and make better decisions. You learn to recognize biases, and writing critically helps you express your thoughts and arguments more effectively.
Steps to Be a Critical Writer
1. Read and do background research.
Read regularly to expose yourself to different writing styles, conversations and representations.
Doing background research is necessary for critical writing that depends on connecting arguments to other counter-arguments, historical and social contexts, scholarly publications and public discussion.
2. Revise and edit.
As a writer, you will spend more time researching, revising and improving your literature than free writing. You'll go back to old pieces and update them with new epistemology and other contributions from peer reviewers.
When writing, take breaks to reset your focus. Gather criticism during your drafting (not just in a publication attempt) to get a well-rounded response with feedback. Jennifer Laffin shares a few reasons revision is so important in writing:
- Adds detail
- Clarifies points and connections
- Builds engagement in dialogue or a writing voice
- Improves structure and fluency in a paper
- Ensures most important key points are covered
Laffin points out that revision is different from editing which is more about grammatical polishing (spell check, punctuation, quotations, etc.). Your reviewers may not be your editors.
3. Match writing with media.
Include and interpret graphs, charts, tables, and pictures and videos to compliment your writing.
Jack Hyman, Mary Moser and Laura Segala (2014) wrote a report for the Association for Educational Communications and Technology about digital learning. Some people think you only can effectively study from textbooks, but this isn't the case.
Hyman and colleagues observed that it's possible for people to prefer multi-modal engagement when learning. Digital media can be an effective learning and teaching tool for many because it supports multi-modal engagement. Simply using media won't support your writing, so be sure to compliment your literature with credible media and reliable resources relevant to the topic.
4. Cite your sources. Don't plagiarize.
Give credit where it's due.
Don't copy and paste without quotations, use your own writing and cite when you are paraphrasing. If a thought did not come from you originally, share your references.
In critical writing, it's expected you'll have a list of references. There are networks of thinkers working on various topics, so it shows integrity on your part to be interested in what others are saying.
5. Keep a journal.
Your journal doesn't need to be scientific or entirely critical. It's about hearing your true voice.
Keeping a casual journal helps support your self-regulation and gratitude. Journaling is often used in therapeutic treatment, as it's a useful way of tracing personal problems, patterns and organizing our thoughts and feelings.
6. Follow your interests.
Scientific writing is stressful. It's a good idea to stick to what you enjoy. If you're struggling to stay interested in a topic, you'll be even less intrinsically motivated to pay attention to your work and potential mistakes.
7. Learn how things connect.
The University of Melbourne shared an article about connecting ideas in writing. Check it out here: https://www.avondale.edu.au/Departments/Library/Academic-Writing---connecting-ideas.pdf
Critical writing helps connect what otherwise seems unrelated. This in turn helps you improve your strategy-building technique.
Some connecting statements are: addition; condition; for comparison; for contrast; for emphasis; for illustration; for restatement; the cause of things; the effect of things; qualification; generalization; time order
Writers are more likely to write, debate and participate in analyses if they're surrounded by academics doing the same. Reading literature from critical (and creative) writers will motivate you to continue your work.
There are blogs, podcasts, forums and classes for writers to connect and share tips, experiences and inspiration.
9. PRACTICE literary magick.
Spookywood's definition of magick is "the design of function." Magick is the way structures interact and bring about change or work.
Writing is a process with steps, rhythm and effect. You can cast a spell with a poem, change your mood with a lyric — granted, it helps to learn the limitations of language. Simply speaking things aloud won't always manifest them independent of your presence. Writing takes practice just like all the best magick.
Writing is a type of magick that operates via brains, tools, memory, language and rules. Learning neuroscience, biology, engineering, mathematics, grammar, linguistics and design will enhance your literary magick.
Critical writing is designed to make an analytic and evidence-based argument for a topic. Critical writing isn't expected to be perfect, but it should be analytical and clarifying. It's crafted to represent information to transform dialogue about it.
If there are missing details, note the blank spaces!
Observe critical writing in your daily life.
A hospital physician uses critical writing to assess a patient's health and input requests for medicines and services. A sales advertisement uses critical writing to explain why their product is the best on the market. Parents of children use critical language to demonstrate distinctions between emotions and needs to help a minor communicate.
There are literary magick formulas all around us, expressed in many variations of language sets and figures.
10. Writing is currency.
James Wright (2014) wrote for the International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences that writing evolved from counting and accounting for environmental data. Symbols, numbers and language are all tokens that represent and account for larger data sets in bigger abstractions.
Writing accounts for data in a number of ways:
There are rewards and charms in critical writing. There are also pains, conflict, dull periods, rejection, criticisms and heavy demands.
Show up to the desk any way, light a candle and designate a magick workspace time to write. Get a desk, get pens and writing tools, keep a journal, invest in your writing. Create an ambience that supports your literary focus (pleasant lighting, music, landscapes, etc.)
Actually write, and do it and regardless of your place in life or skill set. Make a space to write, and apply these strategies daily. Make days build into weeks, months — and cultive this skill for the rest of your life.
Before you know it, you'll see your writing improve. You'll feel your knowledge changing. You'll have an easier time drafting, thinking and being patient with your revisions and mistakes. You'll be less offended by criticism and more positively fueled by it. You'll let failures shift you into a clearer and effective directions.
Consider that profit.
Critical writing helps us build ourselves and a better existence. It motivates us to take responsibility for our thinking, use language as a service and utility and change our minds and lives. Critical writing grants us access to new versions of ourselves and helps us make connections in instrumental ways.
Hoogenboom BJ, Manske RC. How to write a scientific article. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Oct;7(5):512-7. PMID: 23091783; PMCID: PMC3474301.
Hyman, J. A., Moser, M. T., & Segala, L. N. (2014). Electronic reading and digital library technologies: understanding learner expectation and usage intent for mobile learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(1), 35–52. doi:10.1007/s11423-013-9330-5
Laffin, Jennifer. (2017). Editing & Revision: Defining the Difference. Teach Write. https://www.teachwrite.org/post/2017/10/24/editing-revision-polish-up-your-writing
Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018 Dec 10;5(4):e11290. doi: 10.2196/11290. PMID: 30530460; PMCID: PMC6305886.
Wright, James. (2014). The Evolution of Writing. International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences. https://sites.utexas.edu/dsb/tokens/the-evolution-of-writing/