Learning how to determine the relevance and quality of a text is one of the most important skills in research. Take the time to read our tips on how you can become successful at critical reading.
What is critical reading?
Your ability to read critically is essential for success at university. Being able to critically analyse information demonstrates a higher level of thinking, which happens when you:
- Move beyond simply summarising texts.
- Identify links between authors.
- Critique the authors you have read.
- Have something to say about what you have read.
How do I read critically?
Actively engage with the text:
- You must develop a questioning mindset.
- Don’t passively accept what you read.
- Question, evaluate and think about how this information links with your prior knowledge and other texts you have read on the subject.
Read with questions in mind
Rather than looking at the information that you can pull out of a text, it is useful to approach reading with a list of questions so that you can evaluate the information. For a list of critical reading questions visit the UniLearning website.
Look for links
Think about how the information you are reading relates to your prior knowledge, such as previous topics within the same subject and/or other subjects within your course. This will help you to contextualise the information so that you are better able to form an opinion on what you have read.
Consider the organisation of the text
Take some time to evaluate how the text has been organised and how the author has analysed the material. Examine the evidence used to develop the arguments: is the evidence used credible and the conclusions drawn logical?
Evaluate the argument
To evaluate means to look for strengths and weaknesses. Part of being a critical reader is being able to critically evaluate the source of the information, as well as the content. It is important to appraise a text by firstly examining the author. In particular, look at their credentials, such as their institutional affiliations, educational background, past writings, and experience. Secondly, look for the publication date of the source and see whether there are further or later editions.
Experienced critical readers will also evaluate the text in terms of content. This may involve examining the intended audience, the quality, and the coverage of the text, as well as the writing style.
Look for what is not explained
A critical reader must become experienced at ‘filling in the gaps’ by looking for information that is not explained. This allows a reader to identify any bias in the text, which is critical if you are to develop your own ideas.
Examples of critical analysis
Part of becoming a successful critical reader is being able to translate the thoughts you had whilst reading into your writing. Below are some written examples of the observations a critical reader may make whilst commenting on various issues in text.
NOTE: The critical analysis component of each example below is highlighted in blue.
Further examples of critical writing can be found on the UniLearning Website.
Overgeneralisations and assumptions
Researchers often make simplifying assumptions when tackling a complex problem. While the results might provide some insight, these answers will also likely have some limitations.
Researchers may simplify the conditions under which an experiment occurs, compared to the real world, in order to be able to more easily investigate what is going on.
Objectivity of research
Some research may be biased in its structure.
Limitations due to sample group
Limitations can arise due to participant numbers.
Limitations can also arise if there is a limited range of participants.
Limits to applicability
There can be concerns with studies’ applicability, for a number of reasons.
Results not replicated
One such reason could be that the study results have not been replicated in any other study. If results have not been replicated, it indicates that the results are suggestive, rather than conclusive.
Long term effects unknown
There would be limits to applicability if long term effects have not been tested.
It is important to look for things that have not been discussed within studies to ascertain whether this would limit the applicability of the results.
Correlation vs. causation
It is important to be aware that just because one variable is correlated with another, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one variable is the cause of another.