3. Writing the introduction
As presented earlier, the following are generally included in the introduction to a critique:
· background information on the work being critiqued, including its purpose and significance
· definition/explanation of any key terms
· justification for why a (further) critique of the work is needed
· presentation of your stance on the work (thesis statement)
· brief outline of your plan for supporting your stance in the essay
In terms of a critique, background information often comprises details about the creation of the work (author(s), time, location) and possibly a brief description of the context in which it arose. This could lead a presentation of the purpose of the work, possibly in the words of the creator(s). Another important point to address is the significance of the work. What effects has it had on the world, or perhaps more specifically on the discipline/field?
It might also be necessary to provide a definition or explanation for a key term related to the work, especially if the term will be referred to later in the body of the critique. Such a definition is most commonly seen in critiques of a theory or journal article, but could also appear in other works. In some cases, the introduction of the term is part of the significance of the work—the creator(s) invented the term or were the first to use it in that particular sense.
An introduction in academic writing often answers the question “Why should you read this?”, and in a critique, the response is often framed as a justification for the critical evaluation. Why is a critique of this work needed at this time? Are there current circumstances in society that require a reassessment of this work? Has the work become newly relevant due to recent developments? Have documents been discovered that shed new light on the work and its purpose? Perhaps the work has been ignored for a long period of time and is due for a re-examination in the 21st century? In any case, providing a reason or reasons for the critique is good practice in an academic introduction.
Near the end of the introduction comes the thesis statement, in which you present your stance on the work being critiqued. As mentioned earlier, this stance usually involves a critical evaluation of how successfully the creator(s) achieved their purpose in creating the work. For works of art, such as a book, movie, or painting, this might relate to how effectively a certain theme was communicated. In a critique of a journal article or a theory, this could deal with how successfully a certain position was argued and supported.
Although it is optional, many academic writers finish their introduction with an overview of how they will present the key ideas and evidence that support their stance. This provides readers with an organisational roadmap so that they can more easily follow your ideas and arguments in the body paragraphs.
The story “The Lottery”, first published by Shirley Jackson in 1948 in The New Yorker magazine, has become a mainstay in the reading list and curriculum of many North American high schools, and its messages and themes thus reach millions of teenagers every year. It is easy to forget, therefore, that the short story caused a sensation when first released to the public, and that The New Yorker received the most letters in response than any other article to that date (Franklin, 2013), many of them expressing confusion or even outright hostility. A few years previously, American soldiers had come face to face with the atrocities of the Nazi death camps at the end of World War II. The basic plot of small-town Americans willingly participating as a group in a brutal act of murder seemed to imply that they too were capable of such horrific acts. This came into conflict with America’s post-war self-image as a beacon of freedom, goodness, and morality. However, as stated by Jackson herself, the main purpose of writing the story was to “illustrate the dangers of blindly following traditions” (Jackson, 1949, para. 2). Many critiques of “The Lottery” have been written in its 75-year lifespan to date, but one might ask, more recently, how relevant the story is to the sensibilities of young people growing up in the 21st century with the Internet, smartphones, and social media. In this critique, it will be argued that the rural setting of “The Lottery”, far from making the story “timeless”, as one academic claims (Struss, 1985), renders the main theme less believable and relatable to modern audiences. This will be shown by contrasting certain elements of the setting with how young people in a technologically-heavy present would react to the lottery within the story.
basic information about work
significance of work
purpose of work
critical evaluation (thesis statement)
overview of how thesis will be argued