Reading critically

Learn to critically analyse arguments and evidence in your readings.

What is critical reading?

Critical reading is actively responding to the text by analysing, questioning and assessing content to create your own meaning and understanding.

  • You explore how the information is delivered.
  • You challenge the values and assumptions put forward.
  • You assess how content and language work together to convey meaning.

See Engaged and critical reading for more detail.

How to read critically

Set a clear reading purpose. Ask yourself:

  • What kind of information are you looking for?
  • Why do you need this information?
  • This will help you focus on the most relevant sources you need to read and identify the key ideas and words you need to read for.

Read to understand the text first.

Ask yourself:

  • Who wrote and published the article? What is their background?
  • What are the key concepts or ideas?
  • What is argued and how it is argued?
  • What methodology was used, e.g., literary sources, theory, surveys, statistical data, historical evidence and so on? 

Then read to test the author. Ask yourself:

  • Does the evidence strongly support what is being argued for?
  • Is the evidence presented reliable? Are the sources credible?
  • Are there any limitations in the evidence, e.g., too broad, too narrow and so on?
  • Could better or more evidence be provided?
  • Are there any assumptions made that are not argued for?
  • What might an opposing argument be? Does the author’s view contrast with other readings?
  • Would the argument in the reading still be strong if it faced this opposition?

Review your thoughts and notes on your reading. Try:

  • Making a mindmap to ‘see the big picture’.
  • Writing a draft paragraph that expresses your overall view of the reading. 

Tip: Use the Critical Reading matrix to help you review your text critically.

See Critical reading for more detail.

How to analyse arguments and evidence

When you read critically, you analyse the arguments and evidence put forth in your readings. Ask yourself these key questions:

Key questions

Be alert to differences and confusing ideas:

  • How many points of view are presented?
  • How are they different?
  • Why are they different?

Challenge the sources:

  • What is the most important statement the writer makes? Why is it important?
  • Is the evidence reasonable?
  • Is it supported by other research?

Set issues in a broader context:

  • What are the related issues, concerns, or problems?

Form and support opinions:

  • Has the writer explained the arguments clearly and convincingly?
  • How is the argument confusing?
  • What is my point of view (thesis) on the issues?

Source: Rosen, L.J. (1995). Discovery and commitment: A guide for college writers. Mass. Allyn & Bacon.

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