Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Succeeding in postgraduate study

4 The difference between descriptive and critical writing

It is important that you understand the difference between descriptive writing and adopting a critical stance, and are able to show clear evidence of your understanding in your writing. Table 2 provides some examples of this.

Table 2 Difference between descriptive writing and critical/analytical writing

Descriptive writingCritical/analytical writing
States what happenedIdentifies the significance
States what something is likeEvaluates (judges the value of) strengths and weaknesses
Gives the story so farWeighs one piece of information against another
States the order in which things happenedMakes reasoned judgements
Says how to do somethingArgues a case according to evidence
Explains what a theory saysShows why something is relevant or suitable
Explains how something worksIndicates why something will work (best)
Notes the method usedIndicates whether something is appropriate or suitable
Says when something occurredIdentifies why the timing is important
States the different componentsWeighs up the importance of component parts
States optionsGives reason for the selection of each option
Lists detailsEvaluates the relative significance of details
Lists in any orderStructures information in order (e.g. of importance)
States links between itemsShows the relevance of links between pieces of information
Gives informationDraws conclusions
(Adapted from Cottrell, 1999)
Skip Your course resources

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371