How to Write a Commentary

Four Parts:Preparing to Write Your Own CommentaryReading and Analyzing the WorkWriting Your CommentarySample Commentaries

At some point in your life, you'll probably have to write a commentary. Whether you're a teacher, editor, student, or amateur critic, knowing how to constructively analyze someone's work is a useful skill. There isn't a magical formula for writing a commentary. The commentary you write depends upon what you're reviewing, why you're giving feedback, and what you think about the work. Still, there are useful steps and things to consider when writing your own unique commentary.

Part 1
Preparing to Write Your Own Commentary

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    Determine the goal of the commentary. Are you critiquing student work? Are you a student trying to craft an essay? Are you a critic reviewing a performance? The goal of the commentary is closely related to the reason for writing a commentary. For example, your commentary may be providing an opinion, interpretation, insight, evaluation, or personal reaction to a work.[1]
    • In many cases, commentaries communicate strengths and weaknesses in a piece of literature, essay, film, or a play. Strong writing skills and analysis help convey this feedback.
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    Identify the commentary format. These can be casually or more formally written, depending upon the circumstances. Students assigned commentaries are typically required to write multiple paragraphs or a short paper, while teachers and editors often write running commentaries or bulleted points at the end of student or client work.
    • In some cases, you may be given clear rules and guidelines to follow.[2] In other cases, you can use your own judgement and create a format that works for your requirements.
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    Determine the proper length. This is usually decided by someone else. A student's commentary assignment length is typically determined by the teacher and writers are usually given length guidelines from publishers. In general, commentaries should be kept to a reasonable length to avoid overwhelming the reader.
    • For example, a 3-page commentary is considered excessive for a 1-page essay. Instead, try to stick to bulleted comments or around a paragraph of commentary.[3]
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    Set aside plenty of time. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can sit down and just write a commentary after reading a work or watching a performance. You'll need to set aside time to analyze the work or performance, as well as time for writing a polished commentary of your thoughts.
    • Many people find it helpful to reread the piece or rewatch a performance several times before writing a commentary.

Part 2
Reading and Analyzing the Work

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    Read the essay or watch the film, presentation or performance. For your first read-through or viewing, pay close attention to the material and make notes when things strike you as interesting, confusing, well done, etc.
    • It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the aspects of a commentary, but for your first read-through or viewing, step back and get an overall sense or impression of the work.
    • For example, you may want to make a short simple note about how you felt watching or reading the piece. It may be harder to remember your initial response after you've read or watched the piece multiple times, as you should do.
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    Create a short rubric. Make a short list of things you'd like to critique or mention in your commentary. Keep your goal in mind as you make a list of things to comment upon. For example, if you're a teacher trying to help your students improve their writing, making a note about structure or style can be helpful.
    • Some large common categories include: structure, form, style, and content. More specific issues include: themes, development of ideas, and imagery.[4]
    • For example, a rubric for a film commentary might include themes, acting, imagery, and content.
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    Reread the passage or view the performance again. This time, keep your rubric in mind and make notes about the piece's strengths and weaknesses. You may want to read or view the piece each time you tackle a new category for comment.
    • For example, read the passage specifically noting its structure and layout. Then go back and reread the piece, this time keeping imagery in mind when you take notes.
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    Locate weak points in the piece. Specifically, identify the aspects of the paper, presentation or issue that are unclear or require greater elaboration. For example, you might highlight the presenter's omission of key facts and mention supporting arguments that would create a stronger presentation.
    • For example: "The essay is generally vague. Specifically, there are several mentions of social change, but specific examples and details from the exact period are not given."
    • Remember that these notes are for yourself to help you write your commentary. Be specific so that when you actually write, you'll be able to draw upon helpful examples. For example, instead of simply noting that a passage is unclear, jot down what is unclear about it. You might even be able to suggest a grammar fix to clear up confusion.[5]
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    Find the strengths in the piece. As you're reading or viewing, make note of elements that are well done. Is the style vivid? Are the performances believable? Is the author's argument well-supported? An effective commentary also provides positive feedback that lets the creator know what is working.
    • For example: "This article is rich in original analysis and insight. The reporter does a good job of drawing upon her past experience in the region to explain current affairs."
    • Again, at this point, your notes should signal to you what the piece does effectively. You probably won't list every note you made in your actual commentary, but it can give you an overall sense of what the piece does well. For example, if you note several detailed examples, you may eventually comment that the piece is well-supported.

Part 3
Writing Your Commentary

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    Make a brief outline. This will vary considerably depending on how long you want your commentary to be. At its briefest, say for a bulleted or single-paragraph commentary, make note of vital information to include. For longer commentaries, create a structure for your response.
    • For example, include an introduction where you provide the context for the work, followed by analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, themes, etc. Then wrap up with a short conclusion.[6]
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    Prioritize important comments or suggestions. Alert the reader to changes requiring effort or reorganizing, before making smaller notes about grammatical errors or typos. Avoid summarizing the work. Instead, offer your unique opinion, reaction, or insight.
    • For example: "The introduction mentions points that are not actually brought up in the piece. Consider adding the material or revising you introduction. Also, correct typos on the third page."
    • Cite facts, research, and other resources to assist the reader. This is particularly important when helping students learn or persuading readers to gain a new perspective.
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    Write clearly. The reader should be able to decipher exactly which aspects of the paper, issue or presentation are being praised or criticized. Avoid words that the average reader may have to look up in the dictionary.
    • For example, rather than say: "You've epitomized the mood of the moiling society through avant garde utilization of marginalized voices." Try simply saying," You've successfully shown a turbulent society through your original use of the underground press."
    • Remember that commentaries are meant to be helpful or useful. Refer back to the goal of writing your commentary. If the goal is to help a student learn, comments can be written in the form of suggestions, questions or facts to encourage learning.
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    Provide detailed comments. State an issue or theme you've identified, show where you've found it in the work, then explain what effect the issue or theme has on the work.
    • For example: "Alliteration is used in this extract to emphasis how the character speaks. It is used when the character has a lisp 'so simple' This gives a greater impression of how the character talks, giving the reader a better view and imagery of what the traits of the character are."

Sample Commentaries

Sample Positive Commentary

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