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Writing Guide with Handbook

7.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Entertainment

Writing Guide with Handbook7.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Entertainment

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Compose a review based on a thesis supported by analysis and evaluation.
  • Demonstrate the steps of the writing process: invention, drafting, revising, and editing.
  • Participate in the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes.
  • Give and act on productive feedback to works in progress.
  • Adapt composing processes for a variety of technologies and modalities.

Throughout this chapter, you have learned about the review genre. You have learned that reviews evaluate a variety of items. In addition to books, films, and TV shows, people look to reviews to buy cars, choose restaurants, hire plumbers, and more. In this section, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the review genre by composing your own review.

Summary of Assignment: Review of Primary Media Source

Write a review of a specific film, book, TV series, podcast, play, or video game that you think contributes something significant to the genre and to the culture at large. Show how the subject—the primary source—of your review illustrates something compelling or exceptional about a particular idea or theme common to the genre. For example, the CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015–2019) is a romantic comedy that eschews and even satirizes traditional romantic comedy tropes such as the “grand gesture,” doing something out of love for someone. Use specific evidence from your primary source to support a central idea, or thesis. In an essay of about 1,200 to 1,500 words, provide an overall judgment about your subject and support it with evidence from the primary source and from secondary sources if applicable. In addition, explore how your specific source has contributed something significant to its genre. In other words, why is this subject interesting, different, or worthy of analysis? Be sure to demonstrate awareness of your source’s cultural and historical context as well. For example, if your review is about a romantic comedy, provide relevant information about the history, conventions, or expectations of that genre. Think about and explain the ways your topic adheres to or breaks from audience expectations.

Another Lens 1. Create a three-to-five-minute podcast review of a specific film, book, TV series, album, podcast, play, or video game. How does the subject of your review illustrate something interesting or unique about a particular idea or theme common to the genre? Integrate specific evidence from the primary source and secondary sources, if applicable, to support a main idea, or thesis.

To record your podcast review, use either a simple recording method, such as the voice memo app on your smartphone, or something more sophisticated, such as Garage Band or iMovie. To become more familiar with this genre of reviewing, listen to one or two of the examples linked above. Note how this genre is somewhat different from an academic essay. For example, the speaker’s voice is more conversational and engages the audience auditorily by stressing particular words or syllables. In your review podcast, take advantage of the opportunity to present a more informal tone than you might use in an academic essay. Podcast hosts are often successful because of their personality and ability to connect with their audience. Draft a script for your review podcast that reflects your personality and use of language, rather than formal language. For example, use contractions, first- or second-person pronouns, and appropriate slang.

Finally, to maximize the effect of your podcast, consider incorporating short clips from the subject of your review. Upload your podcast review to SoundCloud and share your review with the class. For more direction on public speaking, consult Scripting for the Public Forum: Writing to Speak.

Another Lens 2. Instead of a straightforward review of a single primary source, review several sources in the same genre, as Caelia Marshall has done in her essay. Or compare a film to the book on which it is based and evaluate it. Select your sources from films, books, television programs, video games, or any other form of entertainment, focusing your review essay on a single area, such as social context, character development, or screenplay vs. original text. Choose other genre-specific evaluation criteria as well, and address them in your essay, as Marshall does. Use specific evidence from your primary sources and secondary sources, as needed, to support your main idea, or thesis. In other words, why is this source interesting, different, or worthy of analysis?

Quick Launch: Developing Evaluative Criteria

To write an effective review, you need clear and relevant evaluation criteria. To help you establish your review criteria, fill in a table similar to Table 7.3 by following these steps:

  1. Write the name of your primary source.
  2. In the left-hand column, write the genre category to which your topic belongs (horror, action, biography, etc.).
  3. Under the genre, brainstorm as many characteristics of the genre as you can.
  4. In the right-hand column, write “Examples.”
  5. Brainstorm as much evidence from your primary source as you can think of.
  6. Create a second table called “Subgenre.” For example, if your topic is a horror film, some possible subgenres might be “ghost horror,” “monster horror,” or “slasher horror.” Add a colon after Subgenre, and write the subgenre type.
  7. Label the left-hand column “Subgenre Elements” and the right-hand column “How to Evaluate.”
  8. In the Subgenre Elements column, brainstorm for as many characteristics of the subgenre as you can. You can use some relevant characteristics from step 3, but try to focus on unique characteristics of the subgenre. For example, what makes a horror film about a ghost, such as The Grudge (2020), different from a slasher horror film, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)?
  9. In the right-hand column, develop questions to assess characteristics.
  10. Select three to five genre characteristics with the most evidence, and focus on them as you look closely at your primary sources. Take notes and gather evidence to support your evaluation.
Primary Source: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003 Film)
Genre Characteristics: Horror Examples
Script/plot: Scary story Presented as a “true” story, scary ending
Characters: “Monster” or “thing” that kills Leatherface, a masked killer who wields a chainsaw
Characters: Victims, usually multiple Young people stranded on a road trip
Setting: Rural Texas Creepy locations with potential for violence
Special effects: (gore, jump scares, etc.) Gore: blood and guts
Sound effects: Screaming Many victims and screaming from road trippers
Cinematography: “Gross” or “creepy” images Meat plant, creepy house
Subgenre: Slasher Horror
Subgenre Elements How to Evaluate
One deranged killer Is the killer believable in the moment? Does the killer scare me?
One weapon characteristic to the killer Is the weapon creative? Does it fit the killer’s character?
Killer with a backstory Does the backstory tell me why the killer is deranged? Does it convince me it’s the reason they kill?
Killer hunts the victims Victims’ terror should be convincing: realistic screaming, fear, etc.
Creepy images: setting, props, etc. need to be realistic Are they realistic? How? How do the images add to the sense of fear?
Table 7.3 Genre and subgenre evaluation criteria

Evaluation Criteria for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:

The Killer (Leatherface): How effective is he at scaring the audience? How does he scare the audience (backstory, appearance, weapon, etc.)?

Images/Setting: How do the filmmakers create a creepy setting? How does the setting add to the fear?

The Victims: How do they project fear (screaming, etc.)? How effective or convincing is their fear?

Drafting: Thesis Statement, Analysis, and Supporting Examples

After you have selected a topic and decided on the evaluation criteria, spend some time looking closely at your primary source (the film, TV show, book, etc. you have chosen to review). With these criteria in mind, view/read/listen to your primary source. Take notes on how your selected evaluation criteria apply to your source. When you come across strong and relevant examples, write down vivid, detailed descriptions of the scene and quote applicable dialogue. By looking closely at your primary source and taking notes now, you will have solid and specific examples to illustrate your points later when you draft your review.

Also, while you are looking closely at your primary source, think about the features that appeal to you. Is there a character that is particularly interesting? Do you see an interesting viewpoint on a theme or idea? Is the writing or the use of language interesting, different, or clever? How does it keep your attention or provide something unexpected? The answers to these questions can lead you to your overall evaluation and thesis.


Use a graphic organizer like Table 7.4 to plan your draft. Then, you will use the notes you took earlier to help you brainstorm for the main points that support the thesis and provide specific, concrete evidence.

Primary Source Title of work(s) being reviewed
Angle of Analysis

Overall way you will organize your review: aspects of the source you will analyze or criteria on which you plan to focus.

Example: female romantic-comedy leads.


Ways to narrow your focus, such as time, place, cultural context, comparison to similar sources.

Examples: the female lead in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend versus other female romantic comedy leads or how the 1961 film version of A Raisin in the Sun depicts Lena Younger as a “tyrant.”

Main Argument

The idea you’ll use to draft a working thesis; must be a debatable point about your topic.

Example: Rebecca Bunch, the female lead in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, is flawed and not virtuous. Her shortcomings make her character more engaging than traditional romantic-comedy female leads.


One sentence (sometimes two) that clearly states your argument.

Example: Although most romantic-comedy female leads are virtuous and have admirable character traits, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch is flawed and sometimes unsympathetic; however, the audience still roots for her to find love.

Table 7.4 Preliminary drafting plan sample

Planning the Main Points and Body Paragraphs

Your main points should be your topic sentences, expressed as one sentence at the beginning of each paragraph. Preview these main points by adding because to your thesis statement as illustrated below.


  • Because romantic comedies such as Knocked Up (2007) depict their leads as unquestionably “good” people . . .
  • Because Rebecca Bunch is sometimes selfish . . .
  • Because Rebecca Bunch is sometimes promiscuous . . .
  • Because despite these flaws, men still seek her attention . . .
  • Because the audience sees Rebecca as realistic, they root for her . . .

Now complete a graphic organizer like Table 7.5 by adding your main points from your primary source.

Point 1. Because . . .



Point 2. Because . . .



Point 3. Because . . .



Point 4. Because . . .



Table 7.5 Main points organizer

As you continue to plan your review, consider these questions: Depending upon your audience, how much background or context should you provide about your topic? Are they likely or unlikely to have knowledge about the topic? Do you need to summarize anything about your primary source? Do you need to provide historical or cultural context? Use the notes you took earlier as your draft your essay. Remember, you can change things! It is up to you to decide how to organize your argument and where to present specific evidence.

Your review will contain both summary/observation (objectivity) and evaluation/analysis (subjectivity). Practice determining whether statements are summary or observation as opposed to evaluation or analysis.

Secondary Source Evidence

Once you form your own opinions, you may want to look for additional sources to support your review. Secondary sources, or sources that contain the opinions and analyses of others, are frequently used in academic writing to help writers support a point or provide background and context. Scholarly, peer-reviewed secondary sources give your review greater credibility because the articles are written by experts in their fields. Use your college library’s databases, or ask a librarian whether your college provides access to journals that publish articles on movies, television, and culture. Most colleges have access to JSTOR, a database search engine focused on the humanities. In addition, the MLA International Bibliography is a common database of journals related to culture. Research Process: Accessing and Recording Information and Annotated Bibliography: Gathering, Evaluating, and Documenting Sources provide more information about finding sources.

Another, less academic, place to look for secondary sources is in Recap. In recent years, recapping has become a popular way to join the conversation about TV shows, with sites such as The AV Club, The Huffington Post, Slate, The Verge, and Vox dedicating staff to summarizing and discussing popular shows. Fans engage with each other and recap writers by commenting on and sharing the articles.

Note, too, that well-known publications, such as The New York Times, review not only movies and TV shows but also products such as those you may have chosen to write your review about. In addition, Consumer Reports is one of the longest-running magazines dedicated to reviewing products of all kinds. Many websites, as well, review video games and consoles.

Drafting the Introduction

The introduction should interest readers in your topic and make them eager to learn more about it. If you were proposing this idea to a company, what would your “elevator pitch” be? What might you say to quickly pique audience interest? You might describe the part that convinced you it was good. You might explain why your audience would find the topic relatable.

Be sure readers know by the end of the introduction what specifically you are reviewing. Provide the title and necessary background/context: when it was made, the medium (film, book, podcast), the genre, and how to find it (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu). Include your overall evaluation: Did you like it or not, and why overall?

Then present your thesis at the end of your introduction.

student sample textIntroduction example. Many people love romantic comedies, but what happens when real life isn’t like the movies? We are conditioned to believe there is one person we are destined to be with. Disney movies, TV shows like The Office, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, and traditional romantic comedies reinforce the notion that for the believer, true love is right around the corner. But everyone knows the pain of rejection or of pining for a person who doesn’t seem to notice them. The CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend shows what it’s like when love is more complicated than what we see in the movies. The show follows Rebecca Bunch, a successful but unhappy—and far from virtuous or admirable—New York lawyer who instantly abandons her life to move to West Covina, California, to pursue Josh Chan, her summer-camp crush from long ago. Rebecca cooks up crazy, desperate schemes to get the attention of the aloof and clueless Josh. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend masterfully taps into our inner crazy ex by making good comedy out of Instagram stalking, relationship sabotage, and infatuation.end student sample text

Now, write your introduction:

General statement: ________

Background or context: ________

Brief summary: ________

Evaluation: ________

Thesis: ________

Drafting the Body

For the body of the review, provide more background and context wherever you think such information is necessary. Because the purpose of this part of the review is to present the main points that support the thesis, be sure to show how these points explain the criteria on which you have based your evaluation. Back up the main points with specific, concrete evidence from your primary source. At this point, return to your early notes and use the descriptions and quotations you gathered. You will likely have collected more evidence as well. Use a graphic organizer like Table 7.6 to create your draft. Main points 1 and 2 should be your topic sentences.

Main point 1





Secondary source evidence (if needed):

Main point 2





Secondary source evidence (if needed):

Main point 3





Secondary source evidence (if needed):

Main point 4





Secondary source evidence (if needed):

Main point 5





Secondary source evidence (if needed):

Table 7.6 Drafting the body

Drafting the Conclusion

For the conclusion, summarize briefly how the criteria you used led you to your evaluation, rephrase or validate your thesis, and make a recommendation.

student sample textConclusion example. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a refreshing take on the romantic comedy genre. It elevates comedy by using catchy, original songs to accompany clever dialogue. Though Rebecca is intense and extreme, her situation is relatable, and she comes across as more sympathetic than not, proving that people don’t have to be perfect to be deserving of love. The departures from the romantic comedy playbook leave the audience guessing what will happen next, ensuring the show never feels tired or stale. What comes after the grand gesture and big kiss? That’s a question this show tries to answer, and sooner than you might expect. If you’re looking for a new binge-worthy show, clear your calendar for the next week and give Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a try.end student sample text

Now, write your conclusion.

Brief summary of criteria and evaluation: ________

Restate or validate thesis: ________

Make a recommendation: ________

Peer Review: Conferencing with a Partner

After you finish your draft, receiving feedback from a peer will help you identify the strengths and weaknesses in your review. Because writers sometimes find it hard to review their work from the perspective of their audience, peer feedback will help you see your writing in ways not obvious to you. As a peer reviewer yourself, try to offer suggestions to make the essay more like something you would want to read.

To give and receive the most effective feedback, use the following guidelines:

  1. On your own draft, note the areas you are unsure about and where you especially want feedback. It’s a good idea to have specific questions so that your peer can focus on what you think will help you.
  2. When you are assigned a peer, read their essay at least once without commenting, just to get a sense of what the essay is about.
  3. Read the essay a second time. In the margins, add any comments or reactions to the essay.
  4. Focus on the introduction and comment on its effectiveness.
    1. In what ways are the first few sentences engaging?
    2. Would you want to keep reading to learn more? Why or why not?
    3. In what ways does the introduction clearly establish what is being reviewed? Does it provide sufficient background information? In what ways does the thesis make a judgment or an evaluation with a reason that leads to the judgment or evaluation?
    4. Mark what you think the thesis is. If you find no clear thesis, mark something for the writer to focus on to arrive at a thesis.
    5. Jot down one or two prodding, open-ended questions to help the writer develop or revise the thesis.
  5. Next, focus on the body paragraphs.
    1. Is enough background provided, either in the introduction or early in the body, to give you a complete sense of what the writer is evaluating?
    2. If there is not enough background, jot down a few questions that could be answered with additional background and context.
    3. What is the main point of each body paragraph?
    4. In what ways do the main points support the thesis (my thesis is true because . . .)?
    5. Do the body paragraphs contain specific, concrete details from the primary source to support the main points?
    6. If the body needs more specific details, mark places where the writer can add more detail.
  6. Next, focus on the conclusion.
    1. Does the conclusion clearly tie up the main points?
    2. If not, how might the writer revise the conclusion?
  7. Although your task is not to edit the essay or mark every error, point out any consistent patterns of grammatical errors.
  8. When you have finished, summarize your comments at the end of the review by writing three things on which your peer can focus when revising.

As you work, be detailed and specific in your comments so that your peer can use them to make revisions:

  • What specifically is working or not working?
  • Why is it working or not working?
  • What can the writer do specifically to revise?

If you are having trouble finding something to comment on, remember that you can make comments about what the writer does well. Be sure to explain in detail why you think it’s working. Be sure to consult Evaluation: Effect on Audience as well.

Revising: Maintaining Ownership

When you receive your reviewed essay, look over the comments. Remember that they are merely suggestions; your revisions are ultimately up to you. For example, a sentence fragment, while technically incorrect, could be an effective way to emphasize a point. It is your call to decide whether your use of language is appropriate for your audience and purpose. With that said, however, it’s possible your peer pointed out something you did not notice.

As you revise, keep in mind the following success criteria. Ensure your essay has them:

  • Specific topic: The essay is about a specific TV show, film, book, podcast, video game, or other primary source(s).
  • Interesting lead: You show your audience why this topic interests you and try to capture their attention.
  • Thesis: You present a clear, debatable, and specific thesis about your topic.
  • Body: The body supports the thesis with clear main points. Summary is used effectively to provide background and context.
  • Specific details: You support your main points with relevant and ample details (in the form of quotations, paraphrases, vivid descriptions, etc.) from the primary source or sources as well as secondary sources, if you have used them.
  • Citation: Sources are cited correctly in the text.
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