Critical Essay Assignment: Purpose and Requirements

The Critical Essay is a†formal out of class paper of at least 1,500 words which requires critical inquiry and where the writer develops and supports a main idea. The paper is not a report of facts or a collection of researched information. Instead, it is an argumentative academic essay†that emphasizes critical inquiry and includes the gathering, interpreting, and evaluating of evidence.

Basically, the Critical Essay is a long paper that will be focused on a text of your choice that we have read in the course. The novella Passing is recommended as your subject, mainly because the secondary sources you will need for the assignment are included in the  Norton Critical Edition of the text that is required for the course. The Critical Essay will include your perspective on the topic. 

The Critical Essay requires that you take a stand on your topic and develop a thesis that reasonable people may disagree with.  The bulk of the paper will be your analysis of the text itself, based on close reading of the text. It's important to use the tools of analysis studied in the course, including the literary terms that are appropriate to your text.  As you develop your ideas in the paper, you will be drawing upon research, including secondary sources such as historical contexts and literary criticism, for facts and information as well as for ideas about your topic. You will be discussing, evaluating and analyzing the evidence found in these sources, drawing the writers into conversation with you as you explore and analyze the topic and its implications for you and for society today.

GOAL: 6 to 7 page (approximately 1500 word) argumentative, thesis-driven academic paper based on research and analysis that uses reliable sources and correctly follows MLA 8 Style format and documentation.


  • The Critical Essay must include at least four outside sources that you find in the course materials (the Passing volume) and through searches in the PCC library databases and, possibly, the internet or the course materials. Note that the Passing volume may be useful for many or most of the texts we've looked at in the course.
  • The Works Cited list will have five entries, minimum, including the literary text you are writing about.
  • As you begin your research, use the  links in the Critical Essay Module for help and guidance. 

REQUIREMENTS: The successful Critical Essay:

  • makes a strong argument about a topic that reasonable people may disagree about 
  • includes a clear and effective thesis 
  • includes evidence of critical thinking and integration of course materials/content into its argument
  • is the writerís original work and is/was not submitted to any other course either now, in the past, or in the future
  • contains source material adding up to less than 30% of the finished paper
  • includes effective supporting evidence like examples and specifics from research (texts, websites, etc.)
  • has well-structured body paragraphs, an effective introduction and conclusion, correctly punctuated sentences and correct mechanics
  • follows MLA 8 Style

You may write about your own memories and experiences if you wish, and you may (and should) include your opinions.