What Is a Critical Analysis Essay and What Makes One Good?

Do you take everything you see or read at face value, or do you think about it on a deeper level?

Or think about it this way: if you were in The Hunger Games, would you be an inhabitant of The Capitol—carefree and enjoying the “entertainment” of the Games—or more critical of the government and the fact that it’s actually benefiting all of Panem?

Literature, like life, is nuanced.

You can’t just take what the author of your text, President Snow (or other politicians), advertisers, or corporations tell you at face value. You have to think critically and look at the context and background information, biases, and other factors at play.

Writing a critical analysis essay will help you hone these skills. Instead of looking at this as just another assignment to trudge through, look at it as a chance to channel your inner critic.

In this post, I’ll give you the specifics on how to write a good critical analysis essay. I’ll even throw in some examples relating to one of my favorite critics—Katniss Everdeen. (A critical analysis of The Capitol works, right?)

critical analysis essay

How to Take Your Critical Analysis Essay from Eh to Awesome

A critical analysis essay takes a piece of literature and breaks it down in order to explain the author’s thesis or main idea. But only explaining the different components and how they relate to the main idea will give you a pretty boring essay.

To make it good, concentrate on three elements—effectiveness in staying true to the thesis, organization, and appeal (aka, the non-boring factor).

critical analysis essay
“Awesome Possum” by talkingcookie, DeviantArt.com (CC BY-SA 3.0)


I cannot overstate the importance of staying true to your thesis statement. That’s the North Star guiding you to good essay writing.

I’ll talk about developing your thesis later, but once you have it down, you want to make sure the rest of your essay is devoted to proving your thesis.

Take a lesson from Katniss—success and true greatness don’t come from distractions. They come from dedication to your goal.

In her case, it was freeing the people of Panem from tyranny. In your case, it’s writing a good critical analysis essay. Compared to her goal, the writing doesn’t seem as intimidating, does it?


Organization comes down to ensuring your writing flows logically from one point to the next. One of the best ways to ensure your essay is well-organized is to write an outline. This way, you can plan everything out before you get too far into writing and realize that you forgot an important part.


What I call the “non-boring factor,” others may call creativity. In this case, I’m not talking about being the next Shakespeare. I simply mean that you want to keep your reader engaged.

Just putting the necessary information on paper is not going to create an enjoyable reading experience. When you’re writing and reading over your critical analysis essay, put yourself in your reader’s shoes and judge whether it needs a little more personality.

Steps to a Good Critical Analysis Essay

critical analysis essay

Now that you know a little more about what to include in your critical analysis essay, let’s get into some real examples. After you have read your text critically, there are only four steps left in the writing process:

  1. Write your thesis statement
  2. Draft an outline
  3. Write the content of the paper
  4. Proofread your work

Each of these steps could use a little more explanation, right? Let me show you these steps in action. In the following examples, I’ll analyze author Suzanne Collins’ main point in The Hunger Games series and answer whether she was successful in getting that point across.

Step #1: Write your thesis statement

The thesis statement tells your readers what your critical analysis essay is about. Think about what you want to accomplish with your essay, and state it clearly.

Because this is a critical analysis essay and, therefore, covers a pretty broad topic range, it’s okay to have a fairly lengthy thesis statement.

For my thesis statement, I might write something like this:

In The Hunger Games series, author Suzanne Collins effectively demonstrates the dangers of modern issues of war, inequality, and violence. She uses President Snow and The Capitol as gross exaggerations of the worst habits in US society: vanity, greed, conformity, and lack of empathy. By contrasting these exaggerations against the main character, Katniss, Collins successfully gets readers to understand and even sympathize with her main idea.

Step #2: Draft an outline

Critical Analysis Essay
“Burning Out” by BagoGames Flickr (CC 2.0)

Much like taking over The Capitol, writing a critical analysis essay requires you to develop a plan.

Outlines may seem like unnecessary work. Really, though, they make your work a whole lot easier. You can organize all your thoughts beforehand and make the writing process a lot faster.

A critical analysis essay has several components, all of which should be reflected (in some way) in your outline:

  • Background information about the book, essay, or poem
  • Your thesis statement
  • A summary of the piece
  • The analysis

Depending on your writing style, your outline can be as full or as bare as you want it to be—so long as it gives you an idea of the breakdown of your critical analysis essay.

My outline would look like this:

  1. Introduction
    1. Background information
      1. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, 2008-2010
    2. Thesis statement
  2. Summary of the story
  3. Collins’s purpose
    1. Showing the dangers of war, inequality, and violence
      1. War = catalyst for the Hunger Games to be created in the first place.
      2. Inequality between The Capitol and the rest of Panem creates tension and eventually revolts.
      3. All of Panem is violent, not just the Hunger Games. Creates unjust sense of power for ones committing the violent acts, (rightful) mistrust of government by the victims, and results in death of many.
  4. Organization and Style
    1. Three-part series showing Katniss’s life during and after the Hunger Games. Told in first person and portrays rise to her role as the Mockingjay.
  5. Effectiveness
    1. Through a thoughtful portrayal of the stark differences between the Capitol and the rest of Panem, and how apathetic Capitol residents can be about the suffering of others, as well as the pure evil characterized in President Snow, Collins is highly effective in making readers understand her main idea.
  6. Audience
    1. Teenagers and young adults, but can be enjoyed by older adults as well.
  7. Conclusion
    1. Throughout The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins is able to effectively show her readers what can happen to the world if war, inequality, and violence continue.

Your essay outline might look similar to mine. If you’re analyzing a non-fiction work, you might include other elements as well. Whatever kind of work you’re writing about, your essay must include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Step #3: Write the content

Now that you have your outline, you have a basic plan of attack. All that’s left is filling in all the important details.

Because each piece of literature is different, no two analyses are going to be exactly the same. But there are components that you should include in almost every critical analysis essay:

  • The author’s thesis or main idea
  • The work’s organization, style, and effectiveness in defending the thesis or staying consistent to the main idea
  • How the work appeals to a certain audience

However, different types of works will require other types of details. For example, nonfiction works can analyze an author’s biases, viewpoints the author might not have considered, and whether the author is relying on assumptions or opinions rather than facts.

Here’s a few critical analysis essay examples about nonfiction works:

With fiction, most of what you’re dealing with won’t be facts. (That’s kind of the point of fiction.) So your analysis might include the literary devices the author uses to achieve the main idea, and discuss the importance of the characters or plot.

Here’s a few critical analysis essay examples about fiction works:

Let’s dive back into my example essay on The Hunger Games.

Because of the nature of critical analysis essays, no two body paragraphs are going to look the same. However, part of the “effectiveness” part of my essay might look something like this:

While most of the people in Panem struggle and starve, the people of The Capitol live in the lap of luxury. Children of the Districts live in fear that they will be chosen for the next Hunger Games, while children in The Capitol view the Games as entertainment. They live in two different worlds, and it’s these differences that emphasize the apathy of Capitol residents toward the suffering of others. Because President Snow is the man in charge of the Hunger Games, as well as the one responsible for the suffering throughout the Districts on a daily basis, he represents the epitome of evil. Through these differences, Collins successfully allows her readers to see how the evil of the few in power and the apathy of the many can contribute to war and violence.

Step #4: Proofread your work

critical analysis essay

Just because you’re finished writing doesn’t mean you’re totally done. Make sure to read over your work to catch any mistakes you may have made or anything that could be better.

If you’ve proofread but still aren’t so sure about it, send it to our Kibin editors. They can look it over and bring it to the next level.

That wasn’t so hard, right? Hopefully, now you have some clearer insight into how to take your critical analysis essay from boring to brilliant. Now get to writing!

And may the odds be ever in your favor.

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