An Introduction to Literary Criticism

Literary Criticism is the term for writing that studies, evaluates, discusses, and interprets works of literature. Criticism may also indicate a theoretical approach to interpreting the work, such as new criticism, deconstruction, new historicism, queer theory, reader response or structuralism.

Researching literary criticism may require finding information on a specific theory, in which case encyclopedias or dictionaries of literary terms may be helpful starting points. For a literary critique of a work, scholarly articles and book chapters are more appropriate than general web sources. Try searching databases and the library catalog using keywords such as the name of the theory or the name of a literary work.

Watch Tim Nance deliver an introduction to Literary Criticism

Some types of literary criticism are:

  • Biographical
  • Feminist
  • Historical
  • Psychological
  • Social
  • Textual
  • Comparative
  • Ethical
  • Expressive

Step-by-Step Approach to Literary Criticism

Now that you have an idea of what literary criticism is about, let us go deeper into how to approach literary criticism.

1. Read The Work

As you read the work, ask yourself questions, such as:

  • Why did the author write this?
  • What is the theme or themes?
  • How is the style relevant to the content?
  • How are the characters developed?
  • What do the characters learn?
  • How are the characters connected to the themes?
  • What does the format and style suggest about the story?

2. Build A Thesis

The thesis is a road map for the paper—it tells the reader what to expect. A good thesis is specific, limited in scope, and offers a perspective or interpretation on a subject. 

  • Focus on specific attribute(s) of the text(s).
  • Make a specific, arguable point (thesis) about these attributes.
  • Defend this point with reasons and evidence drawn from the text and secondary sources.
  • As you do research and your paper evolves, don’t hesitate to revamp your original thesis statement.

Further read: Thesis Statement Examples

3. Make Research

Find evidence that supports your thesis. This evidence may include:

  • Opinions of other critics.​
  • Discussion of the text’s historical and social context.
  • Discussions in books or articles about your text.
  • Discussions in books and articles about theories related to your argument.

Further read: Resources to help your research

4. Support your thesis

In addition to support for your thesis in sources you have located in your research, you will use support directly from the text, such as:

  • Direct quotations
  • Summaries of scenes
  • Paraphrases

Reminder: Do not summarize the plot. You are writing an analysis; not a review or summary.

For more information about paraphrasing:

5. Edit your paper

The final step is to edit and polish the paper:

  • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Ask a friend to review it for you. Since you have read it so many times, you may overlook obvious mistakes.
  • Make sure you follow all formatting guidelines.

Some questions to consider as you review your paper:

  • Do you get the reader’s attention in the introductory paragraph?
  • Do you vary the sentence structure?
  • Do your paragraphs transition well?
  • Do your quotes and research clearly support your thesis?
  • Does your conclusion tie up all the loose ends?

Read more regarding Literary criticism

  1. On WikiPedia
  2. Bowling Green State University’s blog
  3. Writing Commons


This post is originally from the University of Texas at Atton blog.
This is an upgraded version of the original.


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