A Critical Review: How to Do it Step by Step

Last Updated: 

April 24, 2023

You have been asked to write a critical review of a novel, a painting, a movie, a play, a piece of music... and you don't know where to start? It's not the same as asking "how to write my papers or an academic essay" because a review has a different structure and emphases to pay attention to. But don't panic! Read this post carefully, and you'll learn how to organise and write it step by step. You can also read various sample critiques by other writers to prepare for them better.

Key Takeaways section on how to write a Critical Review

  1. Understand the purpose: A critical review should summarise and evaluate the work, providing well-argued and justified opinions.
  2. No standard length: Critical reviews can range from 500 to 800 words depending on the complexity of the work being analysed.
  3. Five-part structure: Include a title, introduction, summary, critical commentary, and conclusion in your review.
  4. Create a compelling title: A title should summarise your general opinion; consider writing it after completing the review to capture the essence of your conclusions.
  5. Offer well-supported evaluations: Your critical commentary should be extensive and supported by arguments, not just simple statements of liking or disliking the work.
  6. Brief conclusions: Summarise your critical commentary and overall thoughts on the work in a concise manner.
  7. Prepare before writing: Approach the work without prejudice, take notes, make summaries, and gather relevant information to ensure a successful critical review.
Online Business Startup

What to take into account when writing a critical review?

The first thing to remember is that it is an expository-argumentative text. Therefore, your critical review must fulfil two objectives:

Summarise the work, i.e., provide an overall view by synthesising its most important aspects.

Evaluate the work, that is, give a personal value judgement about it. Your opinion must be well-argued and justified.

And how long should this text be, you may be wondering. The truth is that there is no standard length. That is, it depends on how long and complex the object of your analysis is (reviewing a short film is not the same as reviewing a three-hour movie). A reasonable measure would be between 500 words minimum and 800 words maximum. But remember - a text must say something, give information, so if your text is short, but you don't think it is necessary to add anything more, don't continue writing! Go to the point and remember: empty text only serves to confuse and divert attention from the main topic.

The structure of a critical review

As we have seen, your review should summarise the work you are analysing and give your opinion about it. To fulfil both objectives, you will have to follow this five-part structure:

  • Title of the review: it should be a title that synthesises your general opinion. For example, if you are reviewing the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, you liked it and what moved you most is how the author narrates a love that resists decades and decades - your title could be something like this: 'Love in the Time of Cholera: the moving tale of a patient love that can do anything. A trick to write the perfect title is to wait until the end of the review since the essence of the title is usually in the conclusions.
  • Introduction: this section should be very brief, and in it you will have to introduce the author and the work. In the case of Love in the Time of Cholera, we would briefly talk about Gabriel García Márquez's career and tell that the book is about the love between Florentino, Fermina and Juvenal throughout the years.
  • Summary: This third part is broader than the presentation, and it is here where you should go deeper into the theme of the work. It is about choosing those key moments or features that shape the play. Returning to the example of Love in the Time of Cholera, some moments that should be in the expository summary would be the love affair between Florentino and Fermina, her marriage to Juvenal, the death of the doctor, and the reunion with Florentino, since they mark turning points in the story.
  • Critical commentary: this point should be the most extensive of all the critical reviews since you must give your opinion about the work, but be careful! it is not enough to say 'I liked it' or 'I didn't like it', but your evaluation must have a basis and be supported by arguments. To do this, you will have to choose the points of the work that most caught your attention and comment on them, saying if you agree with the way it has been presented. And if the work has seemed novel or not, if you think it has maintained coherence from beginning to end, if the characters seem relevant to you, if you think another approach would have been more effective… and why.
  • Conclusions: this part should be very brief, and in it you have to summarise your critical commentary and say what you thought of the work in general and how it made you feel.

How to prepare a critical review

To make sure that the writing of your review is perfect, you will have to start preparing it before you start writing while you are enjoying the book.

Approach the works without prejudice! If, for example, you go to a concert thinking you won't like it, you will probably be unfairly negative in your review.

Take notes as you read, watch, listen and observe the work to recover them in your review.

In the case of long works, make summaries of their parts: it will be easier and faster to synthesise the whole.

Make sure you have a good understanding of the work to be able to judge it correctly. To do this, consult information and bibliography about it.

Now that you know how to write it, your next critical review will be a success!

People Also Like to Read...