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Critical reading

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Critical reading

This guide will help you with how to approach reading texts and sources in a more critical way.

Critical thinking and critical reading

As Ian Wells explains in the Critical thinking and critical reading video, it’s not enough to repeat what you have heard in lectures and read in books and journals in your essays.

You are expected to:

  • reflect on the material that you have been given or collected
  • question the information closely
  • assess and evaluate what you are reading
  • develop your own position and conclusions.
This approach is the key difference between studying within Higher Education and doing A’ Levels or other courses at school or college. You can only achieve the highest marks if you demonstrate the ability to think, read and write critically.

As Ian also says in the video, sometimes you might find that other students who read a lot less than you received a better mark for their essay. This may be because they got more out of the texts they used by reading more critically.

Critical reading means:

  • going beyond just understanding what you read and learning to evaluate the statements, theories, opinions and evidence being put forward by the author or authors
  • comparing what you are reading with what you have read in other sources and questioning it in relation to what you already know and believe
  • developing your own position or argument based on your analysis of what you read
  • selecting the best evidence you will use to support your arguments
  • learning not to accept information which may turn out to be biased, subjective, inconsistent, misleading or even wrong.
Critical reading process

Your job as a critical thinker is to actively question what you read to determine the author’s purpose and perspective. These questions are a good general starting point:

  • What are the arguments, opinions, conclusions presented by the author/s?
  • What evidence do they give in support of their position?
  • How reliable does the evidence seem? How recent is it?
  • How persuasive are the arguments in your view? Could other conclusions be drawn?
  • How does this compare with other authors’ arguments and conclusions?
  • How does this fit with what you already know?
  • Might the writer/s be biased? Are your reactions biased?
You can view more critical reading questions by downloading this checklist.

As you develop your understanding of the author’s position and assess the evidence being put forward to support it, you should start to question the text more closely, looking for any limitations, weaknesses or gaps in the methods, evidence and arguments presented.

Here are some examples that illustrate how the critical reading process might work alongside some real texts.

Critical reading skills take time to develop but if you start by actively questioning texts in this way in your first year, you will be well on the road to writing better academic essays leading to your dissertation in the third year.

Other useful resources