How To Write Practical Criticism Of Prose


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Writing practical criticism of prose walk-through. 

Practical Criticism is not a term we often hear about in the education sector and its disciplines. Practical criticism is usually associated with Arts subjects like English Literature.

What exactly is practical criticism?

Practical criticism is the form of close analysis of anonymous poems and the examination of text or poetry. Before I walk you through the steps to write a practical criticism of prose, I will briefly look at the history of Practical Criticism. 

The origins of practical criticism – Where it all started?


Writing HelpPractical criticism is a relatively new subject which was introduced in the 1920s by the Cambridge critic I.A. Richards. His objective was to encourage students to concentrate on ‘the words on the page instead of relying on preconceived or received beliefs of a text. To achieve this Richards carried out some experiments. 


How the experiments were conducted?

Richards gave students poems without any information about who wrote the poems or when they were written. He then asked the students to write a practical criticism.

In Practical Criticism (1929) Richards reports about the experiment’s findings. He found that practical criticism had psychological benefits for the students in the sense that they achieved an ‘organised response.’


The concept of practical criticism today

Today the discipline of practical criticism has some ground rules that have been put in place. These rules affect how people will respond to literature.

What are the benefits of practical criticism? 

Doing a practical Criticism exercise is a way of encouraging readings which concentrate on the form and meaning of particular works instead of larger theoretical questions. 

The process of reading a poem while isolating it from historical processes puts emphasis on the fact that literature is a sphere of activity that is separate from economic or social conditions or the author life

(1) Skills Development.
Nowadays writing practical criticism is intended to
develop a skill and the ability to do a critical analysis of texts, usually poetry. It involves a focused, intensive and close reading of a given text under artificial conditions. I say artificial because the text is presented without any background information. 

(2) A teaching method
Practical criticism is a method of teaching, assessing skills and developing insights. Such insights do enhance deeper and more alert understanding of literary works through a detailed analysis of short text passages. 


(3) Helps Students Grasp The Meaning of Prose.
Practical criticism helps the student gain a sense of what a poem or a passage of prose or drama is about; how to analyse it and how to write an essay successfully.

4 steps to how to write practical criticism

These days it has become a common trend  or the ‘In-thing’ to have ‘the 5 ways of doing this or the 6 ways of doing that.’ The same applies to a practical criticism exercise. It has 4 ways of doing the write- up exercise

Often you are presented with a piece of text, which may be an extract from a book or a poem. You are then asked to write a practical criticism of that extract without being given any background information. 

What is expected of students writing practical criticism?

Doing practical criticism requires you to demonstrate what you think is the author’s intention in that piece of writing.

Take a thorough look at the text to understand the meaning or the main message behind.

Give supporting evidence to demonstrate how the written extract makes you feel and the tone behind. 

The first time I was given the assignment to write a practical criticism of an extract from a book, I was at school doing my ‘A’ Level studies. My then Literature In English teacher taught gave us a lesson on the 4 steps to doing a practical criticism exercise, which I’m going to share with you.

Using these 4 steps you will be able to write a thorough practical criticism. These steps are summed up in an acronym, SIFT.




Step 1: Sense

You need to summarise the text or poem using your own words to demonstrate that you have understood its meaning or the message behind. You must explain the meaning of each of the words or phrases in the extract. Try to use synonyms when explaining the meaning rather than repeating the words from the original text.

The skills you need to be able to do this include the ability to recognise, understand and explain the meaning of a range of vocabulary. You also need to demonstrate an awareness of words, that they have layers of meaning rather than just a literal meaning. In addition, to be able to articulate how language choices can purposefully impact the interpretation of a text. 

Step 2: The Intention

Here you need to focus on the author’s intention. This is what the author is trying to portray to the audience and the purpose of what is being portrayed. Also, demonstrate your awareness of the writer’s intention across the entire passage and how your selections reflect this.

Step 3: Feeling

Explain the effect of each of the words or phrases you extract. You can look for the writer’s effects through vocabulary choice, figurative language and contrasting details.

Also, the writer’s use of a narrative perspective, striking use of punctuations, sentence length, dialect and rhetorical devices.

Avoid making generalised or vague comments that fail to give a precise comment on the writer’s effect. For example, I find this passage is well written and makes a strong impression on me.

Here, you must be specific and point to particular things. For instance, the author’s use of imagery of seeing ‘pots, folks and plates being whirled through the window’ grab my attention and make me see the real scenario of what was happening.

Step 5: Tone

What is the tone that comes across? By tone, I mean the quality of the author’s voice which expresses the speaker’s feelings or thoughts. Often towards the person being spoken to.

Is a sympathetic tone of voice used in the extract?

You need to give examples, be it words or figurative speech that conveys the tone of someone who is fuming with anger.

To conclude, students may wonder how practical criticism can be used.

Would poems look different if they are not presented in isolation from the circumstances in which they were written or circulated?

Would our practical criticism be written any different if we added some contextual information after analysing them?

Do our views of a poem change if we knew the author instead of simply seeing the words on a page?

Personally, I think having background historical information would affect practical criticism due to some preconceived ideas.

Further reading please check out Practical Criticism Examples.


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If you have any questions about How To Write Practical Criticism Of Prose, please leave them below, I will get back to you with a response as soon as possible. 

16 Comments to “How To Write Practical Criticism Of Prose”

  1. Matt's Mom says:

    This is actually really good information. My son had to do something very similar in English class last year. This seems so much more simple than the way he was taught. Heck it had me confused and I consider myself a pretty smarty person! Effective practical criticism helps you decipher or take apart something you read and determine how it makes you feel, is this correct?

    1. Femia says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, you are absolutely right.

  2. jschicanha says:

    this sound awesome. i had been trying to write script ever since my young age of which have made me gain skills and knowledge and being able to use them critically

    thanks for the information provide and please keep me updated of any further information that might arose in any case


    1. Femia says:

      Hi, Jose, thank you for your encouragement. I will make sure you are posted each time I publish a new article.

  3. sakshi says:

    I am doing M.A. in English Literature and I need to write practical criticism for exams. this was of great help. useful,simple and to the point.

    1. Femia says:

      Hello, Sakshi, thank you so much for sparing your time to stop by and leave some encouraging feedback.
      I am glad you found information on this post useful and easy to understand.
      The time I was at school, I found doing a practical criticism tricky. From the day I grasped the SIFT concept it became easy and enjoyable.
      All the best for your exams!

      1. sakshi says:

        The SIFT concept was proposed by I A richards in his book practical criticism. but i agree with the explanation given here. it is simpler.

        1. Femia says:

          Hello, Sakshi, nice to hear from you and thanks so much for informing me.
          It’s interesting to know the origin of the SIFT concept.
          That is very interesting and I would love to read the book.
          I learned the SIFT practical criticism concept the time I was still at school. It helps and gives you a guide to critically analyse a passage or a poem.

  4. Ashish Raj says:

    Hi,Madam I am very happy after reading this article.I was not still understand this theory but in a very short description,you are able to apprehend me the whole theory.Thank you.

    1. Femia says:

      Hello, Ashish, thank you for stopping by and leaving some really good feedback.
      I am glad to hear you found my ‘4 Ways To Writing A Practical Criticism, helpful.
      The time I was at school I struggled with practical criticism homework until I mastered the SIFT concept.
      Many thanks and all the best!

  5. Abdullah khan says:

    Welldone , I really appreciate your work.

    1. Femia says:

      Hello, Abdullah, thank you so much for taking your time to leave me some encouraging comments.
      I appreciate.
      I am glad to know that my post ‘4 Ways To Writing A Practical Criticism’ has helped someone and also that readers connect with what I write about.
      I welcome comments because they help me stay focused and direct me to write about topics of interests.
      Once again, many thanks.

  6. Ruku rhakho says:

    This information is quite good, I had been wrecking my head for some days trying to find any meaningful explaination for critical writing .This article cleared it in an instant, and i feel quite satisfied with this.

    1. Femia says:

      Hello, Ruku, thank you so much for stopping by and taking your time to read my post, ‘4 Ways to Writing a Practical Criticism’ and leaving some invaluable feedback.
      You are not alone. The time I was still a student I struggled to do a practical criticism exercise until the day my then Literature in English teacher taught us how to use the SIFT approach.
      Practical criticism became an exercise I was interested in. I’ glad that you find the approach understandable.
      Many thanks for sharing.

  7. Mangkam Rimo says:

    Femia.. Please upload prose with practical criticism solve example

    1. Femia says:

      Hi, mangkam, thanks so much for stopping by and taking your time to read my post. I’m pleased to know the information I shared is of interest to you.

      I wrote a follow-up post ot How To rite Practical Criticism of Prose as further reading: Practical Criticism Examples.

      Hopefully, this answers your question. Please do not hesitate to ask for further explanations. All the best!

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