Just because you read something doesn’t make it true, and just because something is nonfiction doesn’t mean it’s accurate. It’s important to think critically about what you read, even if it’s a piece of research rather than a novel or poem. An analysis of a piece of nonfiction can identify areas where research could be improved.
Correctly Identify Your Own Thoughts
The scholarly community doesn’t take academic fraud lightly. You probably know this, but you may not know it can be easy to accidentally commit. You don’t have to copy and paste large swaths of text into a word document to be branded a plagiarizer -- paraphrasing an author without using a proper citation is improper. When you’re analyzing another author’s work, it’s easy to mix his words up with yours, and inadvertently pass his ideas off as your own. This is particularly a danger when analyzing nonfiction, since the tone, style and topic of the work could be the same. To avoid this, be diligent when making citations, and clearly distinguish between your thoughts and those of the person that you’re critiquing.
Don’t Mirror the Piece’s Structure
It’s tempting to mirror the structure of the piece of nonfiction as for the structure of your own analysis, but it may come across as intellectually lazy. Construct your own argument by composing a thesis statement such as, “David Smith’s analysis of liberalism in the 20th century betrays a conservative bias” and by backing this thesis statement up with supporting evidence. It may be helpful to structure your essay by assigning different sections of it to different pieces of evidence. While you are providing supporting evidence, you may find it helpful to summarize parts of the text you are critiquing; just be sure not to mirror the text.
Analyze More Than Summarize
If someone wanted to read a summary of a book, he would just flip to its introduction. Of course, you can’t analyze a piece of nonfiction without giving some indication of what it’s about. Just be sure that you evaluate the work more than you reword it. To analyze a piece of nonfiction, compare it to similar works, discuss the relative importance of its findings, place it in historical context, consider the research methods used and ask whether they’re suitable, and explain why you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusions.
Be Critical, Not Antagonistic
The Golden Rule applies in writing criticism as it applies in life: Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Whether you agree with an author or not, treat her with respect. Criticism in the academic sense is intended to push research forward, not put it down. If you think that there is a hole in the author’s argument, suggest that she may have overlooked something -- don’t insult her or her work.
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