Critical analysis is a way of thinking that transcends the descriptive nature of a thing in order to form a judgment about that thing (Glaser, 2017). There are accordingly different perspectives in which to view critical analysis. Glaser considers that it is imperative in forming a judgment about a thing that a rational and balanced evaluative process is employed to complete critical analysis (Glaser, 2017). Clarke adopts a different perspective, however, that critical analysis should be self-corrective, self-disciplined, self-directed and self-monitored (Clarke, 2019); this suggests that critical analysis offers a more independent judgement about a thing that appraises the underlying qualities of that thing.
Additionally, in order to define critical analysis, it is also possible to contrast it against descriptive thinking because they are considered to be opposites. Descriptive thinking tends to be shallower through considering only the surface traits of a thing (Holyoak and Morrison, 2005). Therefore, critical analysis instead concerns a deeper level of thinking that drills into the detail behind a thing. This can include considering a wide range theories and perspectives that shed light on the context surrounding that thing, or through considering different academic perspectives to better analyse and evaluate that thing. Another aspect of critical analysis is that once this context is considered, it must be connected to the author’s observations or argument concerning the subject matter and this must also include attributing weight to different aspects of the argument or observations to enable the research to make a judgment.
Despite different perspectives being advanced as to the nature of critical analysis, there is common ground in that critical analysis goes beyond description and considers the evaluation of that things. Therefore, to this end, critical analysis is the subjective opinion of an author that goes beyond mere description and evaluates key components of another’s work.
Critical analysis is best used for evaluating a thing. Within an academic context, this type of analysis is used to evaluate another academic’s work such as an article or a book and to more fully comprehend their argument (Foucault, 1988). Utilising descriptive analysis will only note what another’s arguments is on a surface level, however using critical analysis will assist in understand whether the argument is relevant or suitable to a particular field of study (Facione, 2011). This type of analysis can also serve to weigh up the importance and relevance of the different parts of another’s argument.
Moreover, it is also important to use critical analysis in constructing an argument within an academic text. Critical analysis can, for example, assist in rebutting another author’s argument (Twardy, 2003). As examined above, critical analysis helps in breaking down another author’s argument. This contributes to understanding the relative strength of each parts of another’s argument and therefore opens up the opportunity to construct an effective argument in response to an academic piece of writing (Clarke, 2019). In constructing a better argument, the researcher is able to draw on the contextual knowledge that he has researched, in addition to their critique on various aspects of another’s argument or observations in order to build on what is considered strong and to rebut what is considered weaker aspects of another’s analysis.
Fundamentally, critical analysis can also be used if the researcher wants to develop deeper thinking on a particular issue (Moore and Parker, 2012). Other types of analysis that is considered critical might only consider the positives and negatives of a particular argument or thing (Twardy, 2003), however critical analysis helps advance these thoughts by attributing weighting to different aspects of that thing through analysis and evaluation in order to create a more nuanced judgment on the strengths and weaknesses of an argument or thing.
There are multiple benefits of using critical analysis in appraising a thing, especially within an academic context. First, critical analysis can help an individual appreciate different ways of thinking. This can relate to the approach to analysing the issue. If an author does not critically analyse another’s work, they will be constrained only to their way of approaching academic writing, however critical analysis can illuminate how other author’s write and approach different problems and issues (Foucault, 1988).
Furthermore, this benefit can extend also to appreciating the context within which a thing exists. A key part of critical analysis is completing preparatory work so that you are able to frame the thing being critically analysed within the context in which it appears (Moore and Parker, 2012). This leads to another key benefit of critical analysis: that it allows a researcher to appreciate different perspectives and to understand how these different perspectives relate to their own. It also carries the additional advantage of enabling an individual to emphasise with another person through understanding the issues from their perspective.
Moreover, critical analysis can also assist in understanding another’s argument in greater detail. As described above, critical analysis breaks down another’s argument, offering analysis and evaluation of each component part of the argument (Twardy, 2003). Through viewing each component of an argument, and evaluating these component parts within context, it allows another individual to fully appreciate another author’s argument in greater detail, which may in turn influence and bolster their thinking. Critical analysis goes beyond descriptive thinking and enables the research to attribute weight to different aspects of an author’s argument, which in turn facilitates a more nuanced, weighted response to the argument, which is a key academic skill.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to critical analysis.
For example, in terms of the positives, critical analysis goes beyond description of a thing to considering the significant of that thing (Facione, 2011). Therefore, conducting critical analysis helps more fully understand different aspects of that thing and to understand how it relates to the wider context. This leads to another advantage: that critical analysis can facilitate the joining of dots between different pieces of information (Clarke, 2019). This in turn enables drawing different conclusions from the surface level information that has been presented, which is advantageous when compared with other types of analysis, such as descriptive analysis. Another advantage of critical analysis is that it can bolster the researcher’s argument. Through considering other academic’s arguments from multiple perspectives, this can benefit strengthening your own argument as you can develop the aspects of another’s argument that you believe to be strong whilst differentiating your argument from another’s if you believe their argument to weaker.
However, there are also disadvantages of critical analysis. Completing the three-step process documented above at Figure 1 is more time consuming that conducting traditional descriptive analysis (Holyoak and Morrison, 2005). Whilst there is not a set amount of time required to conduct this analysis, an individual completing descriptive analysis needs only to complete the first step of the process at Figure 1. Moreover, conducting critical analysis may not be required in all scenarios and therefore completing this analysis might be to exert too much energy and resource to a given issue (Holyoak and Morrison, 2005). For example, if a person offers directions to another it is necessary only to think about the instructions descriptively because conducting critical analysis would not provide any further useful information that would assist in reaching the destination.
Critical analysis can benefit many different fields of study, and there are no inherent limitations in which fields of study critical analysis can be used. However, there are specific instances where critical analysis is particularly useful. For example, critical analysis is valuable in studying humanities and social sciences because it is a way to critique and evaluate another’s work through offering subjective analysis (Moore and Parker, 2012). Consequently, critical analysis is more valuable in this context than, for example, scientific texts because scientific texts use primary data to a greater extent which means it’s more amenable to other types of analysis (Holyoak and Morrison, 2005).
Furthermore, since critical analysis facilitates offering an author’s subjective view, it is also useful for academic study as opposed to some aspects of professional practice. The heart of academic study, particularly within humanities and social sciences, is the advancement of different arguments in order to better understand different aspects of the world that we live in (Foucault, 1988). Critical analysis, therefore, assists in this ambition to better understand the world because it breaks down, challenges, and develops thinking of different perspectives and different approaches to the world, which in turn benefits academia as it allows more people to engage with these issues. In professional practice, however, a researcher might not be advancing their personal, subjective view but a view on behalf of a company. Therefore, critical analysis might be unsuitable because in delving into deeper levels of detail, analysis and evaluation it might touch on different aspects that other members of the company that will not support (Holyoak and Morrison, 2005). Consequently, critical analysis would be considered more suitable within an academic context, however that is not to say that certain aspects of professional practice would not benefit from this type of analysis.
There are two critical phases to completing critical analysis: the completion of critical reading; and the completion of critical evaluation (Plymouth University, 2008).
The first phase is necessary pre-requisite work in order to complete effective critical analysis. There is not a set structure to completing this phase apart from thoroughly researching the context surrounding that thing and how it relates to other similar things. For example, if a researcher is considering critically analysing a history thesis, it is necessary for the researcher to first understand key pieces of information relating to the period of history that the these relates in order to appreciate the importance and hypothesis of the history thesis.
The second phase is the completion of critical evaluation, which heavily relies upon the preparatory work within the first phase. However, this stage can be described as involving a three-stage process. Therefore, in completing critical analysis it is necessary to, first, describe a thing before analysing that thing, and, finally, evaluating how that thing compares to other things (Plymouth University, 2008). Further details about each of these three stages and the typical questions asked during each phase is provided at Figure 1.
The importance of completing the first preparatory phase relates to the quality of analysis and evaluation, which are steps 2 and 3 in the second phase. Without completing the necessary background research, it will be difficult for a research to put the thing into context and appreciate why that thing matters, or what the impact of that thing could potentially be. Therefore, through both of these phases, a research can complete critical analysis.
There are multiple ways to conduct critical analysis whilst following the process and stages described above; nonetheless, there are examples of good practice. For example, it is useful to structure the points in a critical analysis around the three step process that is described above because this will ensure that the researcher’s point of view is presented in a logical and coherent manner (Plymouth University, 2008). Starting with evaluation, for example, can be confusing because the relevant facts and key pieces of information are not first stated.
Another example of good practice is to bear in mind that the research much develop a more thorough understanding of a particular argument or thing. To this end, the analysis must go beyond stating the advantages and disadvantages and delve into weighing these points up in order to reach a reasoned conclusion (Facione, 2011). This will ensure that the researcher demonstrates that they fully understand the subject matter and are able to make an appropriate judgment.
Good practice also relates to how the critical analysis is conducted. It is inappropriate for a research to rely too heavily on other academic works to analyse or evaluate different component parts of an argument or thing (Moore and Parker, 2012). Instead, the research must advance their own evidence-based arguments and points that proves that they understand the subject matter and is able to make appropriate judgments themselves, without relying on a descriptive analysis of the subject matter.
Clarke, J. (2019). Critical Dialogues: Thinking Together in Turbulent Times. Bristol: Policy Press.
Facione, P.A. (2011). "Critical Thinking: What It is and Why It Counts". California: California Academic Press. [online]. Available at: https://courseware.e-education.psu.edu/downloads/geog882/Critical%20Thinking%20What%20it%20is%20and%20why%20it%20counts.pdf
Foucault, M. (1988). Practicing criticism (trans. A. Sheridan). In M. Foucault & L. D. Kritzman, (Ed), Politics, philosophy, culture: Interviews and other writings, 1977-1984 (pp. 152-158). New York: Routledge.
Glaser, E.M. (2017). "Defining Critical Thinking". The International Center for the Assessment of Higher Order Thinking (ICAT, US)/Critical Thinking Community.
Holyoak, K. and Morrison, R. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 371.
Kritzman, (Ed), (1990). Politics, philosophy, culture: Interviews and other writings, 1977-1984 (pp. 152-158). London: Routledge.
Moore, B.N. and Parker, R. (2012) Critical Thinking. 10th ed. UK: McGraw-Hill.
Plymouth University. (2008). Critical Thinking. Plymouth: Plymouth University. [online] Available at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/1/1710/Critical_Thinking.pdf
Twardy, C.R. (2003) Argument Maps Improve Critical Thinking. Teaching Philosophy. 27:2 June 2004.
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