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?
Practical 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.
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.