Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
What Is a Critical Analysis?
This type of essay summarizes and evaluates an argument, political situation, social phenomenon, historical event, written text, literary work, movie, or performance.
3 Essay Parts
Your job writing a critical analysis paper is to:
- Summarize: You will use your own words to explain clearly what happened. If it is an event, you will describe the situation, people, and circumstances. If you are dealing with a text or a performance, you will explain the author's thesis, purpose, and audience. Your summary is intended to help your audience understand this subject clearly and thoroughly.
- Analyze: Next, you will explain the meaning of this event, text or performance. You will evaluate what happened and discuss whether it is good, bad or both. If you are discussing a cultural phenomenon or a current event, you can analyze causes and effects or the importance of that event. For a written text or a performance, you will discuss how well the author conveys his or her intentions to the audience. Is the author convincing? What are the weaknesses?
- Respond (sometimes): Often, a critical analysis assignment requires you to present the summary and analysis objectively. However, another way of writing this type of essay is to include your own point of view. Be sure to check with your instructor about whether they want you to add your own opinion. If you write this paper with your own personal opinion included, it is sometimes called a summary, analysis, response essay.
Topics About Culture
Choose a topic from the list below that you find interesting. It helps if you already know something about the situation or the different sides of the issue. What you don't know, you will need to research.
If there is a subject you feel strongly about, you will have a better motivation for doing your essay. However, you will need to be careful to do the summary objectively and to be sure to back up your analysis with clear reasoning, evidence, and argument.
1. Communication differences between men and women. Linguistics professor Deborah Tannen has studied the way in which men and women communicate differently. Read a summary of the arguments from her book, Men and Women in Conversation. Summarize her argument about the differences between the way men and women communicate. Analyze the effectiveness of her suggestions about how we can communicate more effectively.
2. Drug use in sports. Pick a sport that has had some problems with steroid use or other illegal enhancements. Summarize the situation. Analyze what has caused drug use to become an increasing problem. How has this drug use affected the gameplay, the athletes, and/or the fans?
3. Anti-meth campaign. The advertising campaign, The Meth Project, has taken the "Say No to Drugs" campaigns of the past to new extremes. Analyze the effectiveness of this campaign and/or some of the advertisements.
4. Homelessness. Summarize the situation of the homeless in your community. What resources are available to help them? Why is homelessness still a problem? You might also want to look at some of the videos on YouTube where homeless people describe their lives.
5. College football. Summarize the importance of college football for a University. Analyze the effect of football on creating alumni involvement and giving, drawing students to attend the University, and bringing community pride and economic development. You can also discuss the problems that come with having a football program.
6. Obesity. Obesity rates are skyrocketing worldwide. See the WHO Statistics on Obesity. Summarize the problem. Analyze the consequences of obesity for the individual and society.
7. Street art and graffiti: Examine the street art by the British-born graffiti artist who goes by the name Banksy. You might also want to look at the trailer for his movie about street art, Exit Through the Gift Shop, or discuss his new exhibit Dismaland: A Bemusement Park. Analyze how his street art scenes are a comment on our society.
8. Sports on television. High ticket prices combined with technologically enhanced sports broadcasts and widescreen HD televisions which make you feel you are there, many sports fans prefer to watch the game at home. Analyze the differences between watching sports live and on TV. Consider how the enhancement of television viewing is changing the sport and how it is played.
9. Multicultural identity. We all frequently have to check a box identifying our ethnicity. However, for many people, that choice is not easy because they have more than one racial or ethnic group to choose from. Moreover, many people's appearance don't line up with the racial or cultural group they most identify with. Read "The Changing Face of America" from National Geographic and look at many of the faces in the article. Analyze how Americans identify themselves and others by appearances. Why is having a single racial identity so important to Americans?
10. Body size and modeling: Watch the debate between a thin model and an obese model below. Summarize the points about women, health and body image. Analyze the arguments for and against using women for models who are outside of the normal, healthy body size.
11. Multicultural families. Adoption and intermarriage between people of different cultures and races has created more families of mixed races and cultures in the United States and other countries. Describe this situation and analyze how adoption and marriage across racial lines affect individuals in those families and the cohesion of the family as a whole.
12. Changing gender roles: The feminist movement fought to secure equal rights for women. How have the roles of men and women changed over the last 40 years? How have they stayed the same? Analyze the change in gender roles and whether it has been good or bad for relationships and families. How are these changes seen in cultural images?
13. Ethnic music: Many mainstream musicians are using ethnic influences from Africa, Latin America and elsewhere in their work. Describe the use of ethnic music in one or more artists that you know. Analyze how ethnic or folk music has been used by that artist.
14. Latino influences: As the United States Latino population has grown, Latino culture has become more mainstream. Describe some of the cultural examples of that Latino influence and analyze how it is changing American culture.
15. Single parent families: The rise in divorce has created many more families headed, at least for a while, by a single parent. Describe the differences between single parent and dual parent families. Analyze the effects of single parenting on children, on the experience of the parent or on schools and communities.
English Literature Topics
1. Explain the changes in a character over the course of a novel. Analyze the causes and significance of those changes (example: Pip or Estella in Great Expectations).
2. Examine a setting in a novel. Explain it in detail. Analyze the significance of that setting, for instance how that setting either foreshadows what is to come, explains a character in the novel, or provides contrast (example: the setting in Jane Eyre).
3. Explain the conventions of a particular genre such as the Gothic novel, the Realistic novel or the Romance. Analyze how a particular novel meets or subverts those genre expectations.
4. Find out about the background of an author. Examine one of the author's works and analyze how that author's life influenced what they wrote (example: Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, or Ernest Hemingway).
5. Describe the way irony is used in a short story. Analyze how that irony creates meaning. How does using irony work to create meaning in a shorter work? (examples: Flannery O'Connor's short stories, or Mark Twain's).
6. Describe the climax of a work of literature. Analyze how the author builds up to that climax (example: Death of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare's play, the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird).
7. Describe the mood of a literary work. Analyze how the author creates that mood through word choices.
8. Describe a critical dialogue in a play or novel. Analyze how putting the words in a character's mouth is more effective than just having the author narrate the scene and action in it.
9. Describe the use of allegory. Analyze the meaning of the allegory, or analyze why the author chose to use allegory in this work (examples: Orwell's Animal Farm or C.S. Lewis's Narnia books or John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress).
10. Look at one scene in a Shakespeare play. Analyze how that scene is crucial to understanding the plot or the development of a character (example: Ophelia's death in Hamlet).
11. Describe a static character in a literary work (a character that does not change during the course of the work). Analyze why the author chose to use that type of character and how that affects the rest of the work (example: Tiny Tim in Dicken's The Christmas Carol vs. Scrooge).
12. Describe the narrative voice in a work of literature. Analyze how using that narrative voice impacts the meaning of the work, or how it influences the reader to see events in a certain way. This is an especially interesting critical analysis to do when a work of literature uses more than one narrative voice (examples: The Help by Kathryn Stockett, "Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, or Bleak House by Charles Dickens).
13. Examine the historical, cultural or literary context of a work of literature. Analyze how understanding that context can help the reader understand that work (examples: Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, or Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron)
14. Look at the imagery in a poem or poems by a particular poet. Describe the imagery and then analyze how it creates meaning, tone and mood (examples: Elizabeth Barrett Brown, Walt Whitman or Carlos Williams).
15. Examine and describe a poem which has a first person point of view. Analyze how telling the poem in the first person allows the poet to create meaning (examples: Robert Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi" or "My Last Duchess").
Topics About Movies or T.V.
1. Pick a really terrible movie you have seen. Summarize it and analyze what makes this movie so bad. Is it so badly done that it actually becomes funny to watch? (examples: Trolls II, Plan 9 from Outer Space)
2. Examine a movie based on a book you've read. Analyze how well the book has been adapted into a movie. Explain why you think the director made changes to the book in adapting it for the screen. Do the book and the movie have the same impact on the audience? Which is better? (examples: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Help).
3. Evaluate a T.V. series that is based on a novel (or novel series). Analyze how well the format of T.V. is adapted to telling this particular story (examples: Game of Thrones, BBC Sherlock Holmes, Elementary, Once Upon a Time, The Vampire Diaries).
4. Look at a T.V. series that is based on true events or real people. Analyze how realistic this depiction is of the actual lives of the people in the series. Does this series exploit these people? Does being a part of a T.V. show help or hurt them? (examples: Eight is Enough, Breaking Amish, Friday Night Lights).
5. Examine a movie that is about high school. Analyze whether the characters, setting, plot and drama are realistic. Do such movies help people who are struggling in high school? Do they exploit stereotypes or help to undermine them? (examples: Napoleon Dynamite, 21 Jump street, Mean Girls, Easy A, Project X)
6. Pick a "cake" Show. Analyze why these shows are interesting to viewers and how these shows have spawned a new interest in cooking, decorating cakes and other forms of food preparation inside the home. Are these shows really long advertisements for products and services? (examples: Cake Boss, Cupcake Wars, and Amazing Wedding Cakes).
7. Look at a vintage high school movie. Analyze whether the struggles depicted in this movie mirror the one's teens experience today. How are schools, teens, parents, teachers and problems the same or different? (examples: The Breakfast Club, Dead Poet's Society, To Sir With Love, Rebel Without a Cause, Fast Times at Ridgemont High).
8. Examine a remake of a classic movie. Analyze whether the remake is as good as the original. What has changed? Are some aspects better and others worse? Is the vision of the directors the same? (Example: Piranha 3-D, Evil Dead, Red Dawn, Clash of the Titans).
9. Examine a Hitchcock horror film or another classic horror movie. Analyze how the movie creates horror and suspense while following the strict Hollywood guidelines of the time (examples: The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window)
10. Examine a movie based on a comic book series. Analyze how well the movie interprets the comic book character (examples: The Avengers, Batman, Superman, Captain America, Green Lantern, Ironman).
11. Examine a Wedding Dress Show. Analyze why these shows are popular. Have they contributed to the sharp rise in wedding costs? Is the popularity related to the fact that so many marriages don't last? (examples: Say Yes to the Dress, My Big Redneck Wedding, My Fair Wedding).
12. Examine two (or more) movies based on the same comic book character. Analyze the change in the character over the series, or examine the way two different actors and directors interpreted the character, motivations and plot (examples: Spiderman, X-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League, Superman).
13. Look at a romantic comedy. Analyze how this genre draws the audience into the story. What makes a romantic comedy effective? (examples: When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Clueless, Picture Perfect, Like Crazy).
14. Choose your favorite horror movie to examine. What makes this such a good horror film? Analyze what elements this movie has that creates the experience of horror in the audience (examples: The Exorcist, Sleepy Hollow, The Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, Halloween).
15. What makes a good summer movie? Examine one of your favorite summer movies, a classic, or a hit from last summer. Analyze what makes a movie good for a summer release? What are the audience expectations. How well does this movie match what the audience has come to expect? (examples: Do the Right Thing, Caddyshack, Jaws, (500) Days of Summer).
16. Pick a "dumb" comedy. While these sorts of movies don't generally hold up as classic literature, they can make us laugh and be fun to watch with a group of friends. However, there is a fine line between funny dumb and stupid dumb. Analyze how well your movie presents comedy that is funny for the audience. What makes a movie like this work? (examples: Ted, Bad Santa, The Cable Guy, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America, The Hangover).
17. Choose a movie that one The Best Picture award. Analyze what makes a movie the best of that year and one of the best of all time. Does your movie have features that most best pictures do? What makes it unique? If it was produced this year, would it win again? (examples: Wings (1927/29-the first Best picture award), Gone With The Wind (1939), Ben Hur (1959), The Sound of Music (1965), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), The King's Speech (2001).
18. Choose a reality T.V. series: Analyze why people like these shows. Why are they so popular and what makes a reality T.V. show good or bad? Do these shows exploit the people who appear on them? Where should we draw the line? (examples: Toddlers and Tiaras, Biggest Loser, Survivor).
19. Choose a popular older T.V. sitcom. Research the current events happening at the time the show was produced. Analyze why the show was popular at that time. Did that shows humor last? Can audiences who watch it now still appreciate the humor? (examples: I Love Lucy, Cheers, M.A.S.H).
20. Examine a popular game show. Explain the history of the show. Analyze how the show works to make the game interesting not only for the contestants but also for the viewing audience. Was the key ingredient the set-up of the game show, the contestants, the host, the audience, viewer participation or some other factor? (examples: Let's Make Deal, Minute to Win it, Jeopardy).
Questions & Answers
Question: How can I choose a better topic for my critical literature review?
Answer: I always advise students to choose a topic that is not the most obvious one, but to also choose something that interests them.
Question: What do you think of the topic, "What film ads present an argument?" for a critical analysis paper?
Answer: Better topic questions on this subject would be:
1. How do advertisements for films present an argument?
2. What is the best and most effective film advertisement?
Question: Can you suggest any topics about body size and modeling?
Answer: Here are some topic ideas:
1. Should there be a variety of body sizes in modeling?
2. What is the effect of body sizes in modeling on a young girl's perceptions of their beauty?
3. Has the Dove campaign really helped women re-evaluate the way modeling advertising affects their view of their bodies?
Question: How do I write a critical analysis on adolescent education?
Answer: Explain the adolescent education program in detail with lots of description and specific situations. Then decide which criteria you will use for your analysis, such as:
Are the lessons developmentally appropriate?
Are the students engaged?
Do the students learn the material?
Evaluate the program based on your criteria.
Question: How do I write a critical analysis of a forensic TV show?
Answer: I have several articles that will help you. Here is how to write an Analysis Response: https://owlcation.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-Ana...
You might also want to look at How to Write a Visual Analysis: https://owlcation.com/humanities/How-to-Write-a-Vi...
Finally, another way of saying a critical analysis is "Evaluation" essay or Review, and this article has links to sample essays to help you: https://owlcation.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-Eva...
Question: How do I write a critical analysis of a communication project?
Answer: The job in a critical analysis is to summarize, evaluate and respond. Your reader won't understand your evaluation and response unless you first explain what you are talking about. Therefore, the first part of your paper should be to summarize the communication project and explain what it was all about. You might need to talk about the people involved, the content, and the experience as a whole. Next, you will analyze and evaluate. To do that, you will need to think about what would have made an excellent communication project and then compare the one you are analyzing with this "ideal" project. Generally, a critical analysis will compare different aspects of something. You will have to decide what parts you want to evaluate, but here are some possiblities that occur to me:
How clear the presentation was.
Whether the right focus was chosen.
Was it interesting?
Was everything covered thoroughly?
Was the information unique, or did it tell things you already knew?
The final part of a critical analysis is the response. This part is a personal reaction to the project and tells whether you liked it or not and why. It also might talk about how this project reminded you of something else you had heard about, read, or experienced. A response makes an excellent conclusion to your essay. However, some instructors do not want your critical analysis to include a personal response, so you might want to check the instructions or ask your professor about including that aspect of the paper.
Question: How do I write an analysis essay about being a single parent in Memphis?
Answer: You would need to decide what specifically is unique about single parenting in that city. You might consider:
1. What are problems unique to single parents in Memphis?
2. What resources are available to help single parents?
3. How does being in Memphis make it easier or harder to be a single parent?
Question: How do I write an evaluation essay for a medical TV show?
Answer: You would evaluate it according to the same criteria (good plot, interesting characters, realistic action) that you might use for any other film or T.V. show. You also might use specific criteria like:
1. Are the medical situations in the show accurate?
2. Does the depiction of doctors seem realistic?
3. Does the show over-dramatize the profession?
Question: Can you give me an argumentative topic about grief and the loss of loved ones?
Answer: 1. How does grief from the loss of loved ones affect a person?
2. Does grief make us stronger?
3. How can you best help a person who is grieving the loss of loved ones?
4. What is the best way to remember the loved ones you have lost?
5. Can writing help people to recover from grief from the loss of loved ones?
Question: How can I write a critical analysis of the prevailing examination system?
Answer: A critical analysis paper on a system summarizes the current situation and then gives an evaluation of the system as it currently stands. Some critical analysis papers also give a response or a suggestion for change. Another name for these sorts of papers is "Summary, Analysis, Response" and you can find step-by-step writing instructions here in my article: https://owlcation.com/academia/How-to-Write-a-Summ...
Question: How do I analyse a magazine cover?
Answer: That would be a Visual Analysis essay, see my instructions here: https://hubpages.com/humanities/How-to-Write-a-Vis...
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 21, 2013:
Thanks teaches--I get a lot of my ideas from my discussions with my college students in class and my high school kids at home!
Dianna Mendez on November 21, 2013:
This is a great list for students when selecting an essay topic and critical analysis. Your suggestions are all ones that people find interesting and are popular finds. I will be using this as a reference in classes. Thanks!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 19, 2013:
Thanks so much Ms Dora--I so appreciate that from someone who is such a gifted communicator and teacher!
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 18, 2013:
Very interesting and informative for those still in the classroom. Good topic ideas from a good teacher.