50 Ways to Up Your Critical Analysis Game


Update 06/2015: Thanks for the fantastic feedback. Many people have emailed with requests to share this list with fellow researchers, writers, critics, and K-12 or college students. Please do! I’ve shared a new updated version below.

Download a copy here: 50 Ways to Up Your Critical Analysis Game.

Students often come to me with trouble transitioning from descriptive writing to deeper critical analysis. Others want advice on making the leap from simply noting strengths and weaknesses to interrogating texts and developing their own critical perspective.

The list stems from several years of assembling writing advice and narrowing down the most effective ways to get started or to push your ideas further. This list is by no means all-encompassing, but I hope it will spark new ideas wherever you are in your writing process, in academia or beyond!

  1. Consider writer positionality, including your own
  2. Identify frames and how people write about the topic or issue
  3. Work to uncover hidden biases and locate unquestioned assumptions
  4. Can you use other texts to see this material in a new way?
  5. Can you use other texts to identify gaps in this material?
  6. Which experiences are included? Excluded? Is this intentional?
  7. Illustrate how dominant ideologies become invisible, embedded in accepted knowledge
  8. Critique your own viewpoint — how are you approaching the piece? What are your biases?
  9. Take a step back, write from the bigger picture
  10. Take a step in, tease out a specific element to analyze
  11. Write about an old issue in a new context — change the time, place, location
  12. Break down dichotomies
  13. Relate to your own knowledge on the issue
  14. Find ways to add your narrative
  15. Consider discourses of individuality versus community
  16. Consider discourses of empowerment versus disempowerment
  17. What are the implications for social justice?
  18. Any policy implications? Who benefits?
  19. What are the implications for future research?
  20. Identify your research agenda, your action agenda, your vision
  21. Push existing ideas further
  22. Unpack ideas — what is being argued? What are you trying to add to the conversation?
  23. Unpack power dynamics — how is power manifested throughout the text?
  24. Challenge the structures within which a text is written
  25. Challenge language choices
  26. Apply a new theoretical framework
  27. Expand conceptual definitions
  28. Challenge universality
  29. Help readers unlearn
  30. Give credit to past ideas — know when your ideas are not new
  31. Apply critical lenses: consider political, social, economic, and cultural implications
  32. Apply critical lenses: consider implications related to urban, suburban, or rural contexts
  33. Apply critical lenses: consider implications related to sex, sexual orientation, sexuality, and heteronormativity
  34. Apply critical lenses: consider implications related to gender, gender identity, gender expression, and whether someone is cis-gendered
  35. Apply critical lenses: consider implications related to race, ethnicity, creed, and color
  36. Apply critical lenses: consider implications related to immigration, migration, citizenship, national origin, and being undocumented
  37. Apply critical lenses: consider implications stemming from age, ageism, cultural perspectives on age, and assigning value or devaluing people based on age
  38. Apply critical lenses: consider implications related to mental health and physical abilities
  39. Apply critical lenses: consider implications related to class, caste, and economic inequalities
  40. Apply critical lenses: consider implications related to the global political economy, capitalism, and neoliberalism
  41. Examine the impact of imperialism, neo-colonialism, and global hegemony
  42. Examine the impact of devaluing indigenous knowledge
  43. Take a global perspective on the issue
  44. Explore intersectional identities of all of the above
  45. Set boundaries: Identify your limitations. Explain your definitions, your approach, your arguments, your methods
  46. Add deeper understanding by answering the hows and whys with qualitative evidence
  47. Look to past writing and research to anticipate a trajectory for the future
  48. Look to the future to imagine a new way of understanding
  49. Offer specific alternatives and/or a range of next steps to unfold over time
  50. And most importantly, write with the confidence that your words, your perspectives, and your analysis deserves to be read, respected, and thoughtfully considered.

Many thanks to students of both the Social & Cultural Analysis of Education program at California State University Long Beach, and the Masters in Urban and Regional Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for coming to office hours — this list developed as we worked through your questions and ideas.