3 What is Critical Reading?

Robin Jeffrey; Christina Frasier; and Andrea Carl

Learning Objectives:

  • Develop college-level critical reading skills
  • Apply a systematic, critical process to reading texts

Critical reading is an essential skill needed for college. It requires practice, and an adherence to several steps in order for the reader to be successful in reading at a college level.

Why Do We Do It?

When we read critically, we are mainly trying to answer a few major questions: Does the author do what they say they are going to do? and Do they do it fairly or correctly? We would like to think that every person who writes an article, or argument, does so with an open mind and not with a predisposed bias. However, think about your own point of view when you write—it’s hard sometimes not to be biased just a bit because of numerous factors such as age, gender, culture, religion, environment, etc.

So why should authors of articles that you review and possibly use in your own writing be any different? After all, you want your own writing to reflect information from sources that are trust worthy and reliable—right? Well this is the first step to making sure that is in fact the case. Remember…just because someone is an expert doesn’t mean that everything they say should be taken as fact. Being an expert is good-but not if they are also biased on an issue and may be slanting their information a bit to further that bias.

To read efficiently and critically, follow the steps below:

Step One: Previewing the text

Previewing the text provides the reader with an idea of what to expect from the text. The preview should identify any key concepts or ideas as well as the basic layout of the argument. To preview the text look at the title, subtitle, any headings, the first and last paragraphs, illustrations, and visuals. Once your preview the article, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where is the article going? What do you think it is about?
  2. What is its purpose?
  3. What kind of text are you reading? An essay? A web site?
  4. Who is the audience and how does the author try to appeal to them?
  5. What argument is the author making/question does the text try to answer?
  6. What evidence does the author provide?
  7. Are there any key terms the author defines?

Step Two: Reading through the article and thinking about your initial response

You will need to read the text several times. The first time you read it, pay attention to the content of the text. This should be a surface level reading only. Afterwards, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is your initial reaction to the text?
  2. What accounts for your reaction?
  3. Is there a fact or point that challenged your assumptions?
  4. Any surprises?
  5. Did the author make a point or argument that you disagree with?
  6. Are there any inconsistencies in the text?
  7. Does the text contain anything (words, phrases, ideas) that you don’t understand?

If the text is visual in nature, try these extra tips:

  • What first strikes you about the image?
  • Who/what is the main subject of the visual?
  • What colors/textures dominate the visual?
  • What objects/people are in the background/foreground?
  • Do words or numbers play any role in the visual?
  • When was the visual created?

Step Three: Annotating

Read the article again, but this time with a specific purpose. Now that you know what the article is about, you need to examine how it makes its point. Identify any patterns in the text by examining the grammar, structure, and diction. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What do these patterns reveal?
  2. How do these patterns reinforce the explicit meaning of the text?
  3. Are there things you didn’t notice the first time reading the text?
  4. Does the text leave some questions open-ended?
  5. Imagine the author is sitting across from you: what would you ask them about the text? Why?

Step Four: Thinking about how the text works

Reading through the article again, pay attention to what each paragraph says and does. Write a one-sentence summary of each paragraph.. By identifying what each paragraph does in sentence and putting those sentences together, you will compose a summary of the structure of the text.



Adapted from About Writing: A Guide by Robin Jeffrey, CC BY 4.0 

Adapted from Critical Reading by Andrea Carl, CC BY 4.0 


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What is Critical Reading? Copyright © by Robin Jeffrey; Christina Frasier; and Andrea Carl is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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