When you engage in critical writing you are developing your own academic voice within your subject.
Wellington et al. (2005 p.84) offer some suggestions for distinguishing between the academic and the nonacademic
voice. They suggest that the academic voice will involve:• “healthy scepticism … but not cynicism;
• confidence … but not ‘cockiness’ or arrogance;
• judgement which is critical … but not dismissive;
• opinions … without being opinionated;
• careful evaluation of published work … not serial shooting at random targets;
• being ‘fair’: assessing fairly the strengths and weaknesses of other people’s ideas and writing …
without prejudice; and
• making judgements on the basis of considerable thought and all the available evidence … as opposed
to assertions without reason.”
Wellington J., Bathmaker A., Hunt C., McCulloch G. and Sikes P. (2005). Succeeding with your doctorate. London: Sage.
Try to get into the habit of writing critically, by making sure that you read critically, and that you include
critique in your writing.
Stringing together of quotes
It can be tempting to string together quotes to support an argument, feeling that the more writing quotes you include, the stronger your argument. It is important, however, to remember that you also need to interpret the quotes
to the reader and to explain their relevance, discuss their validity, and show how they relate to other
Strategic use of paragraphs
There are several ways in which you can use the paragraph to enhance your critical writing. You can use paragraphs to make a clear and visual separation between descriptive writing and critical analysis, by switching to a new paragraph when you move from description to critical writing, and vice versa.
This can help in:
• emphasizing to the reader that you are including both description and critical analysis, by providing a visual representation of their separation; and
• pushing you to produce the necessary critical writing, especially if you find that your description paragraphs are always longer, or more frequent than your critical analysis paragraphs.
A paragraph break can provide a brief pause for your readers within a longer argument; giving them the opportunity to make sure they are keeping up with your reasoning. Paragraphs that are overly long can require readers to hold too much in their mind at once, resulting in their having to re-read the material until they can identify the point you are making. You can also use paragraphs to push yourself to include critical writing alongside descriptive writing or referencing, by considering each paragraph almost as an essay in miniature. Within each paragraph you would:
• introduce the point you want to make;
• make the point, with supporting evidence;
• reflect critically on the point.
If it’s worth including, it’s worth telling us why
A certain amount of descriptive writing is essential, particularly in the earlier parts of the essay or assignment or dissertation. Beyond that, however, there is a danger that too much descriptive writing will use up valuable words from your word limit, and reduce the space you have for the critical writing that will get you higher marks.
A useful habit to get into is to make sure that, if you describe some evidence relevant to your argument, you need then to explain to the reader why it is relevant. The logic of your explanation contributes to the critical component of your writing.
So, a sentence or two might describe and reference the evidence, but this is not enough in itself. The next few entences need to explain what this evidence contributes to the argument you are making. This may feel like uplication at first, or that you are explaining something that is obvious, but it is your responsibility to ensure that the relevance of the evidence is explained to the reader; you should not simply assume that the reader will be following the same logic as you, or will just work out the relevance of the quote or data you have described.
Line of argument
So far this Guide has considered the detail of what you write. The other key element in critical writing is the overall structure of your piece of writing. For maximum effectiveness, your writing needs to have a line, or lines of argument running through it from the Introduction to the Conclusion. Just as you have used paragraphs on a micro scale to present your critical writing, so you need to consider the ordering of those paragraphs within the overall structure. The aim is to lead your readers carefully through the thread of your argument, to a well-supported conclusion.