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Writing a Critical Review

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Although I have written a great deal of papers, I have never written a critique of someone elses views on a particular piece of literature. I surmise that it must be type of report; unfortunately, my professors have not explained in detail what these are like.
I have three of this type of paper due next week: one is a two page paper regarding a single critique of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the second is a two page paper for British Literature based on one crtique ( I am thinking of doing Beowulf, or possibly something from Canterbury Tales), and the third and most complicated one is for my Chaucer course; this paper is to be approximately five pages long and must deal with three critical essays (all three essays must be about the same Tale and must have something in common).
I have begun my research (MLA International Biography) and have found several journal articles and have also checked out several books of Chaucer criticism. However, I do not know where to begin - this is not an argumentative paper, or even just my interpretation of the literature, so how do I develop my thesis? Also, how can I write this paper, insert my own opinion (as professors have required) without just repeating the critic's argument in my own words (especially if I agree with them?) The two shorter papers are from the same professor; he would also like me to explain if the critic is "engaged in a conversation with another critic" to explain what it's about and why. How can I do this in a fluid manner? I do not wish to sound like a book report! Also, I cannot seem to find, for example, three different critics arguing about the same issue, such as the Wife of Bath and feminism, so how can all find a common thread in essays that differ so much on this tale?
What I am asking for is some assistance in tackeling these three papers, as two are due Friday, November 18 and the other, longer paper is due on Monday, November 21. I need answers to the above questions and I would like instruction on how to write a critical essay, not on the literary work itself, but of someone else's critique of the literary work, and the more detailed your instruction is, the better. If there seems to be some type of standard formula to follow, and "what to do, and what not to do" type of information, please include it. Examples would also be helpful.

P.S. I know the basics of writing papers, i.e. quoting, bibliography, etc.
Thank you!

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Solution Preview

Writing a Critical Review is often confusing for students, but I find it best and easiest to think of such an assignment as an amalgamation of a book review and a literary criticism paper-although this is not a steadfast definition.

There is so much out there to guide students through literary criticism and book reviews, but less to guide you through critical reviews. This is for many reasons, the most practical being that each professor is usually looking for something different, and therefore the structure of a particular paper and the requirements vary from assignment to assignment.

It is imperative that you truly understand your assignment, and if you do not, or are unclear about the instructions given to you. I suggest that you e-mail your professor with questions to clarify or schedule an appointment to discuss the assignment further. Only your professor knows truly what he or she is seeking from your completed assignment.

To write a critical review is to examine another person's thoughts on a topic from your point of view. When you are asked to write a critical review (usually of a book or article), you will need to do three things to the ideas and information the author has presented:
1) identify,
2) summarize; and
3) evaluate.

Your stand must go beyond one's initial reaction to the work and be based on your knowledge (readings, lecture, experience) of the topic as well as on criteria outlined in your assignment or discussed by you and your instructor.

Make your stand clear at the beginning of your review, in your evaluations of specific parts, and in your concluding commentary.

Your goal should be to make a few key points about the book or articles (or what it sounds like in your case, the critic's work) and not to discuss everything the author writes. Students very often try to bring about too many points and in the end have a paper with many incomplete points, rather than a few thorough and complete points.

ORGANIZING YOUR CRITICISM USE:

The following is an excerpt from the following link that I use with students often ( www.gpc.edu/~shale/humanities/ composition/handouts/crit.html ). I feel this is well explained and applies to many types of academic writing.

"Just as it's usually best to read criticism after you've developed your own views, so do you normally refer to or quote criticism after you've expressed an idea of your own. A typical paragraph may consist of a topic sentence (expressing a portion or subtopic of your interpretation), followed by an elaboration of the idea, a reference to or brief quote from the work that you're analyzing, an explanation of how this passage illustrates your point, a quote or reference from a critic on this passage (or a similar one), and perhaps a brief discussion of the critic's comments."

"The most important part of every student paper is the student's own ideas--the criticism is used within the body paragraphs to support the student's ideas. ...

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