Reading Skills for Academic Study

Reading critically

Critical reading

It is important to read critically. Critical reading requires you to evaluate the arguments in the text. You need to distinguish fact from opinion, and look at arguments given for and against the various claims. This also means being aware of your opinions and assumptions (positive and negative) of the text you are reading so you can evaluate it honestly. It is also important to be aware of the writer's background, assumptions and purposes. All writers have a reason for writing and will emphasise details which support their reason for writing and ignore details that do not.

The following questions may be usefully asked about any text you are reading:

A Purpose and background
  1. Why are you reading this text? What is your purpose?
  2. What type of text is it: research report, essay, textbook, book review?
  3. What do you know about the subject of the text?
  4. What else has been written on the subject of the text?
  5. What controversies exist in this area? How does this text fit in?
B The author and the text
  1. Who is the author? What do you know about the author? What authority does the author have?
  2. Who is the intended audience?
  3. What is the author's purpose? Why has the text been written?
  4. What is the source of the text? Is it reputable? Who is the publisher? What reputation to they have?
  5. What is the date of publication? Is it appropriate to the argument?
  6. What is the writer's attitude towards the topic?
  7. What conclusions are drawn?
C Evidence used
  1. Is there a clear distinction between fact and opinion?
  2. Is evidence used to support arguments? How good is the evidence? Are all the points supported?
  3. In an experimental study, was the sample size adequate and are the statistics reliable?
  4. Are there any unsupported points? Are they well-known facts or generally accepted opinions?
  5. How does the writer use other texts and other people's ideas?
  6. Are the writer's conclusions reasonable in the light of the evidence presented?
  7. How do the conclusions relate to other similar research?
D Assumptions made
  1. What assumptions has the writer made? Are they valid?
  2. What beliefs or values does the writer hold? Are they explicit?
  3. Look at the language that is used, e.g. active/passive verbs, nominalisations, pronouns, ergative verbs, articles, etc. Is it always possible to identify participants and processes? e.g. compare: the government increased taxes; they increased the taxes, taxes were increased; taxes increased; the taxes increased, there was an increase in taxes
  4. Look for emphatic words such as it is obvious, definitely and of course.
  5. Look for hedges: possible, might, perhaps.
  6. Look for emotional arguments, use of maximisers: completely, absolutely, entirely, or minimisers: only, just, hardly, simply, merely.
  7. How else could the text have been written?

Example

Read the following example: Example 1

Exercises

Try these exercises: Exercise 1, Exercise 2