How To Write Practical Criticism Of Prose

Practical Criticism Advice For Beginners

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


In literature, Practical Criticism involves the examination of text or poetry and underlies everything English students do.


Carrying out a practical criticism analysis involves:
(1) Reading of text closely
(2) Having a grasp of the larger issues    related.

Writing a practical criticism helps the student

(1) To gain a sense of what a poem or a passage of prose or drama is about.
(2) How to analyse the poem
(3) How to successfully write an essay.

The first time I got an assignment to write a practical criticism of a book extract, I was still at school doing my ‘A’ Levels.


Practical criticism exercises make you develop the skill of doing a critical analysis of texts, mostly poetry.

It involves focused and intensive close reading of a given text under artificial conditions. Artificial in the sense that the text is often presented without its  background information.

Background information about the author, the date for the composition and the place is essential for analysing the passage within context.

Practical criticism is also a method of teaching, assessing skills and developing insights, alert students to a deepened understanding of literary works through detailed analysis of short text passages.

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These days people are getting away with 5 ways of doing this or 6 ways of doing that.The same approach equally works for a practical criticism exercise.

Very often, you’re presented with a piece of text that may have been extracted from a book or a poem. Next, you’re asked to write a practical criticism of that extract without being given some its background information.

This involves taking a thorough look at the text in order to understand its meaning or the message behind. 

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

Lastly, you need to give evidence of how the piece of work makes you feel as you read it and what is the author’s tone.

My former English literature teacher taught me the 4 steps for doing a thorough practical criticism. These steps are summed up in an acronym called SIFT.

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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 you extract. Try to use synonyms when explaining the meaning rather than repeating the words from the original text.

The skills you need for this exercise is the ability to recognise, understand and explain the meaning of a wide range of vocabulary.

You also need to demonstrate an awareness of words, that words have layers of meaning rather than just a literal meaning.

Also, you must be able to articulate how language choices can purposefully impact the interpretation of a text.  


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 they are portraying. You should also demonstrate an awareness of the writer’s intention across the entire passage and how your selections reflect this stance. 


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

Also, the writer’s use of a narrative perspective, his striking use of punctuation, sentence length, dialect and rhetorical devices. Avoid making generalised or vague comments that fail to give precise comment on the writer’s effect. For example, it’s well written and makes a strong impression on me.

Here, you need to be specific and point to particular things. For instance, the author’s imagery of seeing ‘pots, folks and plates being whirled through the window’ grabbed my attention.  


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

Is he using a sympathetic tone of voice?
You need to give examples, be it words or figurative speech that conveys the tone of someone who is fuming with anger.

For more information on critical appreciation of a poem example exercise, read Practical Criticism Example. 

Please feel free to leave any questions you may have related to 4 Ways To Writing A Practical Criticism. I will get back to you with a response as soon as possible.

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20 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!

  8. Lenno says:

    Very much helpful.. Opened my thoughts and minds wide by reading this… Thank you..

    1. Femia says:

      Hello, Lenno, thanks so much for taking the time to read my article, ‘How to write practical criticism of prose.’
      I’m so glad to hear that this article has been really helpful. thanks for leaving some feedback. It helps me to figure out the information visitors are searching for.
      Best wishes, Femia.

  9. Bongiwe says:

    Hellow, so I want to know how do you write an essay when requested to write an essay about “as a teacher, how would you use practical criticism to teach learners to analyse a text”?

    1. Femia says:

      Hello, Bongi, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my post,’ How To Write Practical Criticism Of prose.’

      Coming to your question, as a teacher, the first thing you need to ask the students is that they read the text in order to understand it.

      Secondly, using the SIFT approach, they need to write the sense or summarise that piece of text. The rules for writing a summary is to write it using their own words that are different from the text.

      Thirdly, the students write about how they feel after reading the text in terms of the language used, grammar, metaphor or similes.

      The fourth thing is to explain how the author’s tone comes across. Can you deduce from the text how the author feels?
      Does he sound sad or happy and what makes you think so?

      Hopefully, this answers your question. Do not hesitate to ask if you need more explanation. Best wishes.

      The last thing is the tone. Does the tone come out and what words has the author used to successfully bring out the tone.

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