Commentary Essay Guide

If you are a high school, college, or university student, you might have to write a commentary essay, sooner or later. And whatever the subject may be, it’s better to be sure to provide substantial content and analyze the written discourse thoroughly. A commentary is quite good for completing that task.  

There are several ways of writing a commentary, and we will examine all of the major ones. Depending on the subject and the requirements, you might write your commentary in the form of a separate paper with its own characteristics (usually assigned and explained by your tutor), a literary analysis, and data commentary.

Plus, a commentary can be part of any complete essay. If you are assigned a specific type, you are free to jump to it directly. If not, make sure to read the whole article and learn more about every kind of commentary essay.

Essay definition – read our general article to learn more about essays.

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Commentary Essay as a Separate Paper

A commentary essay as a separate assignment is widely used among academic institutions. Such a paper aims to make students enable and use their critical thinking, analyze a subject, and provide an individual commentary essay.

For instance, the Purdue University Fort Wayne course ENG W131 relies on a commentary essay as a distinct type because it simply helps the reader understand the topic more in-depth and provides a strong stance regarding the given subject. It would be reasonable to point out the most notable attributes of this commentary essay and what professors of the Purdue University course require to pass the program.

The list of assignmend handouts by PFW with commentary essay highlighted
Excerpt from “RESOURCES FOR W131”

Objective

The commentary essay’s primary goal is to help the audience understand the topic better. Many subjects may be quite unclear to an ordinary reader—meaning many points can be misunderstood. Students write commentary essays to evaluate various concepts and analyze the subject in a broader scope. 

Audience and Genre

The writer’s primary audience should be interested in the issue and have some connections with it. In other words, if you are to discuss innovations in the business sector, your audience may comprise business owners.

A commentary essay speaks itself. The genre is a commentary—however, an official one.

Language and Style

Almost every paper has to be written according to academic rules, i.e., by following formal language and avoiding slang and personal pronouns. A commentary essay, however, allows you to include the first-person pronoun “I” to present your point of view.

Make your work coherent by providing effective transitions between the essay’s paragraphs and minding the word choice.

Structure

Like any academic paper, a commentary essay must contain an introduction with a thesis statement, a body part, and a conclusion. A word count might vary, but it is usually four to six pages long, double-spaced, typed with Times New Roman, with a title page and scholarly sources formatted in APA style.

Note: To learn more about essay format and structure, read our dedicated guide – How to Format an Essay.

Make sure to add one academic article or any other authoritative source per page. If your commentary essay has three pages, you need to find three up-to-date scholarly or any other competent materials. Such shreds of evidence support your arguments and thus make your work more trustworthy. 

The following are some brief tips to help you secceed in writing a commentary essay:

  • Create a strong and clear thesis that will outline your paper’s main points.
  • Make sure to give your audience food for thought or something that will urge them to act or try making sense of the topic.
  • Treat the readers as co-thinkers and demonstrate your position with reason, regardless of whether your perspective on the subject and theirs coincide.
  • Don’t be too objective or neutral but try to show your viewpoint, whatever it is.

Literary Commentary Writing and Analysis

Many students might think that commentary and analysis are two different things. They ask what the difference is since teachers can talk about commentary and analysis and use these terms interchangeably. The truth is, these are basically the same words in the context of essay writing. In simple terms, a commentary requires a person to analyze a certain block of text and explain their understanding to the audience.

As we already know, a commentary essay can be written in various ways. A commentary essay can examine different subjects and areas, which is hard to say about literary analysis. Literary commentary writing focuses on literature and sometimes news. Moreover, it follows the two most used methods: “This shows that” and “LET.” 

“This Shows That” Approach

To be brief but precise, this method makes students read between the lines and provide a complete understanding of the given text. However, although this method is relatively simple (but very effective), students tend to make mistakes when using it. Instead of going into the content, they remain about water. As a result, students don’t analyze the chosen section but simply paraphrase it. Let’s take a look at two examples:

A weak approach: In Essay On Criticism by Alexander Pope, the author states that “Those RULES of old discover’d, not devis’d; Are Nature still, but Nature Methodiz’d. Nature, like Liberty, is but restrain’d By the same Laws which first herself ordain’d.” The author says that only Nature sets the rules of our universe and can alter them.

A stronger approach: In Essay On Criticism by Alexander Pope, the author states that “Those RULES of old discover’d, not devis’d; Are Nature still, but Nature Methodiz’d. Nature, like Liberty, is but restrain’d By the same Laws which first herself ordain’d.” This shows that Nature dictates its own rules that no one can alter but her. Moreover, such rules are tightly connected with criticism during Classicism. The author wanted to emphasize that often such criticism was hostile to poetry, which was then called “criticism for the sake of criticism.”

“LET” Approach

This approach stands for “Literary Elements and Techniques,” which helps determine components used within the section and explains how such techniques correlate with the thesis statement. As a matter of fact, these elements are point of view, conflict, plot, character, style, and setting

Analyzed quote: “It is much easier to make good men wise, than to make bad men good.”

Thesis statement: Henry Fielding used digressions and extensive descriptions to show how a single event can be depicted, extended, and mocked.

Commentary: In this example, the narrator uses digressions to change the topic and provide something completely different, which, however, as the author states, is very important to know beforehand. By men, the author demonstrates the entire humanity and its development, false values, and shallow life. The quote works to show that every piece of text can mock every life aspect, and it wholly relates to the thesis statement.

Note: To learn more about academic analytical writing, check our comprehensive article – How to Write an Analytica Essay.  

What Are Commentaries in an Essay?

Commentaries in an essay can be written in different ways. Depending on an essay’s type you have to analyze, you can use several kinds of commentaries to interpret body paragraphs’ evidence. These comments ultimately allow you to build a full-fledged paper and are essential in most essays. 

Each body paragraph in essays usually has a set strucutre, which looks something like this:

  • Topic sentence (with your claim or argument)
  • Supporting evidence, examples, quotes, etc.
  • Your commentaries analyzing the previous part
  • Concluding sentence with a transition to the next part

There are five different ways of writing a commentary (analysis) in an essay. Each of them requires thorough analysis to identify which type is the most pertinent to use. Comments can be composed in the form of:

  • Opinion: When you analyze a piece and provide your take about it.
  • Interpretation: When you explain a concept that is hard to understand.
  • Character and Subject’s Feelings: When you depict the person’s emotional state.
  • Personal Reaction: When you present your personal stance on the topic.
  • Evaluation: When you evaluate a section and provide your critical judgment.

Now, each type is unique and has to be used within the relevant context. Suffice to say, you can’t use a character’s and subject’s feelings when analyzing statistics or a biology essay. How to identify which type is the most pertinent to the essay? Let’s find out.

Opinion Type

This one simply means to walk through the piece, comprehend it, and give the audience a short thought on the subject. The “what and why” method is the best way to provide sound analysis. Topics may be different, but argumentative essays with pieces of evidence are the prevalent paper type.

An exemplary statement might be: Considering a slow increase in vaccinated people, it will take over 70 years to vaccinate all the globe’s population.

When sticking to the “what and why” method, you want to show what your opinion is why it is important.

So, the answer might follow this way: The statement demonstrated very slow progress in vaccinating people. If we want to get back to the pre-covid times sooner than 70 years from now, we have to speed up the vaccination process to grant people safety and hope.

Interpretation Type 

This type would suit argumentative essays with evidence-based statistics and numbers. Likewise, the “what and why” strategy would be the best for this and succeeding types.

The example of the body paragraph’s main thought can be: Researchers empirically identified that of 100,000 participants, 80,000 started feeling better after strenuous workouts.

Your commentary: The research indicates that the vast majority of participants made use of intense exercises. However beneficial it may be, there are still a substantial number of people who didn’t feel any improvement, and some even started feeling worse. 

Character’s or Subject’s Feelings

This type is applicable when providing commentaries on different descriptive or narrative essays.

For instance, the subject matter may well be related to some biographies and reflections, such as Sylvia Evans, observing her poor mental state, had to give up higher education and merge with solitude for the rest of her life.

Then, your commentary can be: Sylvia faces disastrous feelings at her young age, resulting in her university expulsion. Consequently, she has to leave everything and become alone, which can be even more perilous for her and people who share similar feelings. 

Personal Reaction

Here, you can touch on topics that can somehow relate to you. Issues you cover might be various and relate to the expository, narrative, or descriptive essays. An excellent example can be the topic of ethnic discrimination.

For instance: People don’t accept individuals of various backgrounds, sticking to the ideas of a polygamous nation and excluding others from their group.

The following may be your response: It is unacceptable to observe such pseudo-notions and see how people from different countries are perceived. Such an attitude spawns hatred, isolation, and even violence from both groups. 

Assessment 

This type relies on authoritative papers, credible statements, law, and other widely known rules.

For example, Owners whose private property is trespassed can use firearms and fend off the intruders.

Your evaluation can be as follows: Although this might be unnecessary, people are prone to defending their territory in any possible way. In fact, they are protected by the law and constitution that allow them to use firearms to protect their possessions. 

Data Commentary

Last but not least, the data commentary. Data commentary analyzes and discusses various data. In many fields, especially in engineering, it is critical to be able to make a point or develop an argument based on data.

The data can be presented as a table, graph, chart, or diagram; it can be your own data (e.g., gathered via a survey) or data from other sources, such as research papers and third-party surveys.

In data commentaries, one of the essential points is showing your position. And one of the main mistakes is to simply describe the data without providing your own point of view or any interpretation. However, here’s where another danger often arises. When drawing a conclusion based on data, make sure that conclusion is well-supported and that your claim is reasonable.

You can regulate the strength of your claim by using different verbs based on the strength of your stance. For example, if your stance is strong, you can say “caused,” indicating that one thing is definitely the reason something else happened. But if you want to make it less asserting, you can word it like “might have contributed to.”

All in all, here are the elements your data commentary can consist of:

  • Summary: You need to write a study’s synopsis and provide critical pieces of information the reader should know about.
  • Graph or Chart: To help the reader understand the numbers better and be able to compare them easily, you can include diagrams, charts, or other visual representations of data.
  • Conclusion: When writing a conclusion, not only do you help the reader remember key points, but you also provide your viewpoint.
  • Bibliography: You might need to create a reference page listing the sources you used when composing the data commentary.

Data Commentary Example (image)

Here’s an example of a data commentary with a good explanation, transitions, and a strong conclusion.

a data commentary excerpt about online misbehavior
ncsu.edu

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CONTINUE

Key Takeaways and Tips

With the abundance of types a commentary essay has, it comes as no surprise that students often get overwhelmed when professors assign them to write this paper. Still, the assignment is manageable, especially if you are aware that a commentary essay can be written in the form of:

  • Separate essay
  • Literary analysis
  • Data commentary
  • Evidence interpretation

Each of them is unique and has characteristics that students need to be familiar with before writing. 

Once you define which type of commentary essay you need, you might find the following tips useful:

  • Commentary is analysis, but not every analysis is commentary.
  • Try color-coding when writing an essay, highlight its parts with different colors to see if your paper is balanced and well-structured. Read more about essay elements in our guide on how to write a standard essay.
  • Always remember that in a commentary, your opinion and interpretation matter the most.
  • In a literary commentary, avoid using first-person pronouns (I, me, my, we, us, our).
  • Don’t simply summarize the quote, data, or evidence but draw logical conclusions and present your perspective.

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