What Is a Critical Commentary?

A critical commentary is a detailed, technical explication of a text, usually examining its integrity and its textual and philological issues, with a discussion of its context and an analysis of its content. Rather than simply list or describe a text, a critical commentary explains and defends the writer’s position.

Critical commentaries usually reference relatively recent scholarly sources, focusing on small units of a text rather than the whole. They usually devote themselves to analyzing for bias and discussing a text’s prehistory and literary traditions, as well as seeking to place the text in a historical and cultural context. Writers are expected to immerse themselves in the scholarly discourse. Their arguments are made in relation to pre-existing scholarly work. Defenses and evidence take into account not only textual support but criticisms levied against similar theories, which must be refuted in turn. Ideally, critical commentaries contain links between multiple texts and subjects.

While critical commentaries and analyses are heavily associated with religious texts and academic work, they are an important aspect in nearly all professional fields and disciplines. Critical commentaries are composed of critical thinking and writing, or the acquisition and interpretation of information used to reach a conclusion and justify a point of view.