Types of arts and humanities publications

The publication types discussed in this section relate to analytical and interpretive writing in the arts and humanities. Written creative products of the arts, such as novels and poetry, are outside the scope of this manual.

This section covers:

Reviews and critical writing for the arts

An arts or humanities review assesses the merits of an artistic or written work. It may be a consumer guide, or a more scholarly article. Reviews provide feedback to the creator of a work and help others to decide whether to engage with it. Some make the work more meaningful or interesting to the reader or viewer by providing some background:

Often considered the first impressionist painting, Claude Monet’s Impression, soleil levant (1872) …

Reviews can cover written material (eg a book, an article) or an artistic work (eg a production of a play, a painting, a musical recording).


A useful review does not assume that the reader is familiar with the work, so should start with a summary or description that discusses the work’s main features, points and content. The brief summary or description could contain:

  • physical attributes
  • key content (eg experience, plot, background)
  • visiting details (eg location, hours, times).

For material with a plot, such as a play, movie or book, balance how much of the story to disclose without giving away the ending or key plot points. Consumer reviews must not give much away. Reveal enough for a meaningful discussion, without spoiling the enjoyment of a reader or viewer who has not yet consumed the work. One technique is to limit discussion of plot points to the first quarter or third of the review.


The main substance of the review is your evaluation of the work under consideration. Your opinions should:

  • be substantiated by reference to the work (providing quotations, descriptions or other references); this also gives your reader an opportunity to form their own opinion
  • be contextualised (eg with respect to other comparable works, the culture in which it was created, the history it references)
  • be balanced, with a discussion of how the work was successful and where it worked less well; present the negative points first if your review leans to the positive, or the positive points first if your review leans to the negative
  • bear in mind the work’s context, limits and goals (consider the different target audiences for a book about Shakespeare for high school students versus a monograph for Shakespearean scholars, or the disparate budgets for a community theatre production versus a professional production); the review should consider how successful the work was in achieving its goals within its context and constraints – does it meet the needs of its intended audience?


Conclude with a summary of your view and recommendation, if applicable. If you used other references, list them.

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Journal publications and essays for the arts

The word essay derives from the French essayer, to try or attempt. This original meaning gives writers a clue about the purpose of essay writing; it is an opportunity to try out new ideas and arguments, often with the goal of convincing the reader to see your perspective.

Both inductive and deductive reasoning can support such an argument.

The inductive (or bottom-up) approach means noticing patterns in the evidence and looking for an overarching framework.

To work inductively, select elements from a text, a historical event, an idea or an artistic work and bring these together into an overall theory and analysis. Take care that the elements and examples you select are properly representative of the event, idea or work that you are analysing, and not outliers.

The deductive (or top-down) approach means formulating a guiding principle or pattern and seeing if the details fit into it.

To work deductively, form a theory about a text, event, work or idea, and work through the evidence to find ways in which this theory can be supported. To persuade your reader of the worth of your theory, select those elements that work best with your argument, and bring them together to form a coherent point. Watch for counterarguments as you select examples to support your view, and be willing to deal with them, including changing your theory if the evidence points in a different direction.

Both inductive and deductive reasoning are often used in arts and humanities writing – a few details encourage the formulation of a principle, and that is used to guide further detailed research to test and adjust the principle:

Using bottom-up and top-down reasoning in the arts and humanities

As you research the historical role of women in Australian society, you notice a pattern in their efforts to win the vote. [bottom-up] You decide to explore this idea further, and start to form an interpretation about how women’s suffrage eventually became a reality.

Using this preliminary interpretation to guide your research, you work to collect more examples of the actions taken by women in the lead-up to suffrage in Australia. [top-down] Through this process, similarities and differences emerge, prompting you to adjust your interpretation in the light of new information. [testing and adjusting the principle]

Moving between these modes of reasoning allows you to refine your thinking and develop a well-supported interpretation of events in the past.

See Journal articles for more information on developing such publications.


Types of arts and humanities essays include:

  • expository or explanatory, which provides a summary of the writer’s knowledge on a topic or explains it, without expressing a view of it
  • interpretive, which establishes a particular framework for understanding the material (eg work, event or period, text) and describes the material through that lens
  • evaluative, which defines an explicit set of criteria for judging the material and then discusses how the material measures up
  • argumentative/persuasive, which sets up an opinion on an issue and supports it as convincingly as possible.

Approaching the same material with different essay types
Subject matter: Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Dulce et decorum est’

Expository/explanatory: Wilfred Owen wrote ‘Dulce et decorum est’ in the late part of World War I. The poem was written while Owen was a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland, where he was being treated for shell shock.

Interpretive: This poem is about the close-up realities of war: the physical hardships and misery that each soldier experiences. The author lingers on the terrifying injuries sustained in war – ‘guttering, choking, drowning’; ‘the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs’ – to evoke for readers the experience of the men in the trenches.

Evaluative: The most influential texts to emerge from World War I brought home the enormity of the conflict. Owen’s poem, with its consistently negative appraisal of the squalid conditions, the brutal reality of death and dying, and deeply pessimistic outlook of those trapped there, creates an overwhelming sense of the horrors of war.

Argumentative/persuasive: Owen’s poem ‘Dulce et decorum est’ demonstrates the disenchantment with the war effort felt by British soldiers by the later years of the conflict. The poet’s uniformly grim depiction of the soldiers’ experience argues against the continued involvement of his country in a costly and pointless war.


Assume that your reader is someone with your level of knowledge (eg a fellow undergraduate or arts professional) and is familiar with the underlying work. This allows you to focus on analysis, rather than rehashing the plot, work or historical record.


In the introductory paragraph, set the limits of your enquiry and state your thesis. Make sure the thesis is reasonably narrow in scope so the essay remains manageable. The opening sentences should provide the reader with a good understanding of your topic and approach. An arts and humanities essay should be lively and interesting in style. Use some originality and colour to liven up the text, but keep the tone professional.

The body of the essay presents your evidence to support your thesis, as well as the counterarguments that you wish to raise to acknowledge or, ideally, refute them. Evidence from a source text can be provided as a full quotation, where necessary, with reference to a page number:

Smith argues that, ‘This was the pivotal battle’.12

12    Smith WH (2013). The Korean War: a timeline, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 121.

Arts and humanities essays have historically not contained subheadings within the body of the text, but they are becoming more common. Subheadings can help to provide a visible structure to a longer paper.

In the conclusion, briefly summarise your key arguments, depending on the length of the paper (this is not necessary for short essays). However, your conclusion should go beyond summarising, and help the reader to think about the significance and implications of the essay. Bring your reader back to the thesis from your introduction, and tie up the strands of your argument into a coherent idea for the reader to consider. (What is your ‘take home message’?)

Lastly, suggest next steps, such as how your analysis could be extended with further research or applied to similar material.

Special considerations for publications in scholarly journals

Many of the recommendations for essay writing apply to journal articles in the arts and humanities. Some differences to note when writing professionally are as follows:

  • Audience and assumed knowledge. You can assume a higher level of general and discipline-specific knowledge for readers of scholarly articles. However, your audience will include academics and students outside your area of expertise, so consider defining specialist terms and reminding your reader of details such as specific historical chronologies or character traits in a novel.
  • Grabbing the reader’s attention. New research is published daily in academic journals worldwide. You cannot afford to get to your point in a leisurely way. Make sure your reader understands right up front what is different, interesting and useful about your argument.
  • Formatting according to the journal’s style. The journal’s submission guidelines will provide instructions on word limits, the use of subheadings, the designated style manual, the inclusion of a cover sheet, and so forth; make sure that your submission complies with these requirements.
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