Think critically

Critical reading

The aim of critical reading is to assess the evidence and arguments put forward by the author, using this to form your own opinion, rather than accepting everything you read as fact. When you start to read a text, you may need to read it several times and go through a series of processes in order to get the best information

Pre-Critical Reading or scanning
  • Is concerned with recognizing what a text says about the topic.
  • Your goal is to make sense of the text as a sequence of thoughts, to understand the information, ideas, and opinions stated within the text from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph.
  • This activity enables you to restate what the text says about the original topic - "The book said we should eat less chocolate and drink less wine".
Critical Reading
  • Next, reread the text to identify patterns of elements -- information, values, assumptions, and language usage-- throughout the discussion.
  • These elements are tied together in an interpretation, an assertion of an underlying meaning of the text as a whole.
  • This activity enables you to describe what a text does and identify key aspects - "The book recommends we should change our diet"
Critical Thinking
  • Critical thinking involves applying your own knowledge and values to bear to evaluate the information and decide what to ultimately accept as true.
  • This activity enables you to interpret a text, analyse it and assert an overall meaning - "The book warns that people should reduce their calorie intake for the sake of their health".

Taken from Dan Kurland’s Critical Reading website

Critical reading tips

It can help to ask yourself the following kinds of questions.

Presentation : Look at language, layout, structure, etc.

  • Is the information clearly communicated?
  • Is it well-structured with a clear introduction and conclusion?
  • Is the text easy to read?
  • If a website, is it easy to navigate?


  • Does the information match my needs?
  • Is it factual, objective?
  • Look at the introduction or overview – what is it mainly about?


  • Is the author’s position of interest made clear?
  • Is it biased?
  • Look for an introduction or overview – do the writers state their position on the issue? Is the language emotive? Are there hidden, vested interests?


  • Is it primary or secondary information?
  • Is it someone’s opinion not supported by evidence?
  • Does it give an overview of other people’s work?
  • Does it describe a research project?

Method (research reports only)

  • Is it clear how the data was collected?
  • Are results included?
  • Is there evidence to back up the information? E.g. tables, charts etc.
  • Were the methods appropriate? Do you trust it?


  • Is it clear where the information has come from?
  • Can it be verified by other sources?
  • Can you identify the authors or organisations? How was it published?


  • Is it clear when the information was produced?
  • Does the date of the information meet your requirements? Is it obsolete?

For more in depth help with critical reading, see the University of Leicester’s Study Guide.

The Open University has a useful online tutorial

Critical writing

Critical reading is a precursor for critical writing. You’ll find lots of information and help on writing available from the Writing Development Centre.