This lesson introduces student teachers to strategies that will help you develop critical writing skills for your academic work. The lesson will expose you student teachers to strategies such as developing argument, summarising and paraphrasing, structuring and sequencing, and paragraph development.
Develop good academic writing skills to improve your communication in the academic environment and professional work as would be teachers. This is in line with the National Teachers Standards 1a (NTS 1a).
Definition of critical writing
Critical writing involves considering evidence to make reasoned conclusions. A mistake many beginning writers make is to use only one source to support their ideas (or, worse, no sources, making unsubstantiated statements). Critical writing is clear, concise, focused, structured and backed up by evidence. Its purpose is to aid the reader’s understanding.
Critical writing is an essential part of writing an assignment. When you write your assignment, you are writing with a definite purpose, that purpose is to answer the question that has been set. Part of answering a question, an academic question, is convincing the reader that your answer is the correct one.
With critical writing, you are participating in the academic debate. This is more challenging and risky. You need to weigh up the evidence and arguments of others and to contribute your own. Critical writing is not necessarily writing about the topic in a negative way; it is simply making sure that you have considered all sides of the argument. It is your job as a critical writer to consider all of these views in your essay to show your awareness of all the issues associated with your topic.
An effective critical writing method is to pick a subject, see what other writers have said about it, decide whether you agree with their opinion, and then tell your reader why you do or do not agree, and which aspects you DO agree with them about.
The purpose of critical writing is to represent views based on credible information translating that information into coherent piece of writing to produce an authentic critical work rather than merely presenting facts in a mechanical way.
In critical writing
- consider the quality of the evidence and argument you have read
- identify key positive and negative aspects you can comment upon
- assess their relevance and usefulness to the debate that you are engaging in for your assignment
- identify how best the different opinions can be woven into the argument that you are developing.
Characteristic features of critical writing are:
- Planned and focused – a clear and confident refusal to accept the conclusions of other writers without evaluating the arguments and evidence that they provide
- Structured – a balanced presentation of reasons why the conclusions of other writers may be accepted or may need to be treated with caution
- a clear presentation of your own evidence and argument, leading to your conclusion
- a recognition of the limitations in your own evidence argument, and conclusion.
In addition, critical writing is
- formal in style and tone
The different stages involved in critical writing
- De-code the essay title.
- Plan your essay.
- Research your topic.
- Structure your essay.
- Develop your argument and introduce counter-arguments.
- Use relevant evidence.
- Develop your academic writing style.
- Find out how to present your work.
Strategies to develop in critical writing
Some strategies to develop to enhance critical writing skills include developing arguments, summarizing, paraphrasing, structuring and sequencing, and paragraph development.
- Developing arguments:
To develop a critical writing you need to develop cogent arguments. This does not come readily; it must be learned. The following must be observed when developing arguments:
- Know the basic structure of an argument
- Identify your claim – your stand on the topic
- Know the main points in your argument – find and review preliminary evidence.
- Structure your argument carefully
- Use evidence
- Consider counter arguments
- Have a clear conclusion – write up your argument
To summarize is to take ideas and present them again in a more concise way. This is crucial in critical writing because the learner has to read works on the topic and put it in a paragraph or two as a summary. This happens because the writer has limited space for both positive and negative points to make the argument. In summary, the reader must have the following in mind:
- Identify the main points or elements
- Identify what was stated or what is included
- Identify thoughts or contributions others have made
- No argument or conclusion is made
- Ensure good coherence
To write a great summary, we also need to bear the following in mind
- Read the original, summarizing each paragraph.
- Put all these short paragraph summaries into a word processor (Word or any other).
- Organize the paragraph summaries into groups by theme or subject.
- Identify the main point and state it in the beginning of your summary.
Paraphrasing in academic writing is an effective way to restate, condense, or clarify another author’s ideas while also providing credibility to your own argument or analysis. Successful paraphrasing is essential for strong academic writing and unsuccessful paraphrasing can result in unintentional plagiarism. In academic writing, it is usually better to paraphrase instead of quoting, because it shows that you have understood the source and makes your work more original. Paraphrasing is often used when engaging with academic content to place your argument in the context of other work on the subject and enter your ideas into the academic discussion. This also helps writers avoid overusing quotations, which can clutter up your work.
When paraphrasing, put someone else’s ideas into your own language, while still crediting them with the original idea.
Steps in paraphrasing
- Read the passage several times to fully understand the meaning
- Note down key concepts
- Write your version of the text without looking at the original
- Compare your paraphrased text with the original passage and make minor adjustments to phrases that remain too similar
- Cite the source where you found the idea
Writing an idea in a different way than the published version can be difficult. These following are tricks you can apply to help you do so:
- Start your first sentence at a different point from that of the original source
- Use synonyms (words that mean the same thing)
- Change the sentence structure (e.g. from active to passive voice)
- Break the information into separate sentences
Definition of paragraph
A paragraph develops one main idea through a series of related sentences. This main idea is usually introduced in the first sentence of the paragraph, called the topic sentence. The idea is then developed further through the sentences that follow. Occasionally, the topic sentence can be located in the middle or end of the paragraph. Paragraphs play an important role in writing because they provide a framework for organizing your ideas in a logical order. Using a clear structure for a paragraph helps guide the reader through the written work.
Paragraphing is the practice of dividing a text into paragraphs. The purpose of paragraphing is to signal shifts in thinking and give readers a rest. Paragraphing is a way of making visible to the reader the stages in the writer’s thinking.
Structure of a Paragraph
A useful way of understanding paragraph structure is to think of it as a block that is divided into three sections: the beginning, the middle, and the end. A basic paragraph follows this structure:
- Topic Sentence (TS) – the beginning
- Needs to state ONE idea clearly
- Useful Tip: Always put the most important information first.
- Supporting Sentences (SS) – the middle
- Elaborates and explains the idea introduced in the topic sentence
- Provides evidence and examples
- Explains the evidence or example included – why is it relevant?
- Concluding Sentence (CS) – the end
- Makes links: back to the main idea of the paragraph; back to research question or topic of the assignment; to the next paragraph
When to start a new paragraph:
- Start new main points or new ideas in a new paragraph. If you have an extended idea across multiple paragraphs, each new point within that idea should have its own paragraph.
- Use a new paragraph to introduce a contrasting or different position. Use a clear topic sentence to identify the main idea.
- If the paragraph becomes too long or the material is overly complex, break to make your writing more readable. Try splitting long paragraphs into two shorter paragraphs. This means you will need to write a new topic sentence at the start of the new paragraph.
- Introductions and conclusions are usually, written as separate paragraphs.