How to write critically and effectively

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Academic writing in the humanistic disciplines emphasizes thesis-drive and evidence-based arguments. Effective humanities academic writing is characterized by its open-ended queries.

This chapter guides you through the steps to effective critical writing in the humanities. We will explore the fundamental principles of critical writing, including the nature of writing, the structure of writing, and writing strategies.

Follow these steps and you will become a more confident and fluent writer.

Writing is not simply putting words on paper to express pre-formed thoughts. We refine our ideas through writing. We discover what we think through writing. As Steven Mintz argues in Writing Is Thinking, “writing is not merely a mode of communication. It’s a process that … forces us to reflect, think, analyze and reason.”

Academic writing is governed by genre conventions and a structure of Introduction, Body of Argument, and Conclusion.

The introduction would provide contexts to the open-ended research questions. Some writers offer a “hook” to capture readers’ interest. After providing contextual information (which includes social contexts and what other researchers have published), an effective writer would narrow down and make a compelling thesis statement which explicitly states the arguments of the piece. This section may also provide some insight into why this work (and argument) is important.

The main body of the piece typically delves into case studies that use tangible evidence intentionally to support key arguments. The evidence and arguments progress and connect to one another in a logical fashion. It is helpful to have a blueprint, an outline, before one sets out to write. 

It is important to have a meaningful Conclusion which is not just a summary that regurgitates the foregoing paragraphs. An effective conclusion proposes actionable items or questions for further research. It may also apply the thesis (theory) to broader contexts. This is not the place to introduce new concepts or evidence.