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What do critical readers do?

  • They question as they read.
  • They do not necessarily accept what they read as 100% accurate or the only way of discussing an idea.
  • They identify the positive (useful) and negative (less useful or weak) aspects of an argument.
  • They analyse  or identify the component parts of arguments so that they can fully understand the author’s ideas.
  • They look for content (basic facts), themes (overall ideas or arguments or claims) and based on these they are able to raise issues about a text (how the ideas can be applied in practice or what the problems might be in practice).
  • They find links between authors.  They can identify which authors are talking about similar ideas even when they sound different.
  • They form opinions about what they have read.

Read research articles critically

  • Is the research objective? Is there any evidence of bias?
  • What do the numbers that are quoted actually mean? Consider absolute numbers as percentages and vice versa. For example, does 8 people out of 10 sound as impressive as 80%?
  • Are the results meaningful and useful or is it difficult to see how the results could be used or applied?
  • Have other writers or researchers found similar patterns? In other words, have the results of research been replicated?
  • Are there long-term effects?  For example, if a result is observed, is it still evident over time or does it fade?
  • Did the study look at long-term effects or were the results reported only in the short term?
  • Is there any chance that there could be other reasons for the findings other than those the researcher states? Is there any possibility of rival causes or effects?
  • Are there any parts of the research process that were not well described or were not considered? For example, are there any omissions or gaps in the research process or thinking?

Ask questions, especially if you have used non-academic material (such as newspapers). Remember that most academic writing uses academic (peer reviewed) sources.

Hidden persuaders

Try to identify hidden persuaders which influence without providing real evidence, such as:

Generalisations

"Most authors agree…"

Who are these authors?

False assumptions

"Intuition, the key to good criticism..."

Where is the evidence?

Appeals to experts

"Jane Craibill, administrator of QPAC believes actors and technical staff should have equal pay..."

Great sentiment, but still her opinion.

Reliance on the past

"Artists have always initiated social change..."

Again, where is the evidence or examples?

Selecting information and ignoring contrary points of view

Only choosing evidence that supports your views

Watch out for these words

"Plainly, obviously, undeniably, naturally, as you will agree, there is no doubt, it has to be admitted, clearly..."